Joe Thornton losing captaincy vindicated by San Jose Sharks’ play-off series win over LA Kings

Rob McKenzie on the fine form of the San Jose Sharks and the benefit felt by the team in stripping Joe Thornton of the captaincy.

This is vindication.

Thirteen months ago, when the San Jose Sharks explained why they had stripped Joe Thornton of the team captaincy, it seemed like yet another chapter of inanity in the story of a group of perennial underachievers.

In hindsight, though, Thornton’s demotion was the turn of the key that unlocked the Sharks’ potential.

The general manager Doug Wilson’s words from back then have proved prescient, now that the team have advanced to the second round of the NHL play-offs by eliminating the favoured Los Angeles Kings in five games.

Back in March 2015, Wilson explained his move by saying of Thornton: “He’s got such a big heart that when stress comes on him, he lashes out at people and it kind of impacts them.

“The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe. And I sat him down and said we need other players to step up and share this.”

Thornton was not amused. He complained that Wilson — his boss — was “lying” and “just needs to shut his mouth”.

But Wilson was absolutely right, and San Jose’s decisive victory in the battle of Los Angeles proves it.

Thornton is far better suited to be wingman than squadron leader.

He can push the sled forward much better from the middle than from the front.

The new captain, Joe Pavelski, meanwhile, is the perfect bridge between San Jose’s old players and young.

Pavelski, 31, is inspirational and has exceeded expectations: the 205th overall draft pick in 2003, he has piled up 123 regular-season and play-off goals in the past three seasons.

On the other hand, Thornton, 36, is a No 1 draft pick from 1997 whose game has often been criticised as soft, although his talent, especially as a passer, is undeniable.

What matters most is that the team — and that includes Thornton — have strengthened with Pavelski as their fulcrum.

In the LA series, Thornton did not show up on the scoreboard a lot but seemed to spend a great deal of time controlling the play; whereas Pavelski was the one who lit up the stats, with five goals and one assist.

San Jose were full value for the win, which culminated in Friday’s 6-3 victory on LA ice.

This is indicative: over the course of the series the Sharks held the lead for 174.04 minutes versus a measly 4:02 for the Kings.

Whereas the Sharks have great depth, the Kings’ lack of such was exposed.

LA worked Drew Doughty like a three-dollar mule because they lacked faith in their lesser defencemen.

Doughty averaged 30.49 mins of ice time per game for the series.

The most that anyone on San Jose had to clock was Brent Burns at 23:58 a night.

LA also hurt themselves with no end of dumb penalties, like their captain Dustin Brown’s useless tripping of the San Jose goalie when the Kings were already a man short on Friday night.

Maybe the Kings were venting their frustration as the knowledge sunk in that these were not the old Sharks, who famously choked on a 3-0 series lead against LA two years ago.

The Kings felt like a team riding their reputation — seven of 10 experts on chose them to win this series — even after their power had faded.

Picks update (pre-play-offs picks can be found here)

So far my first-round picks are 2-0 (San Jose over LA, Tampa Bay over Detroit). Two more of my predictions look good: Dallas and Washington are up 3-2 over Minnesota and Philadelphia respectively. My other four are mighty dicey: the Rangers are down 3-1 to Pittsburgh; Chicago trail St Louis 3-2 and Florida are down by the same count to the Islanders after Friday’s double-overtime loss; Nashville are tied 2-2 with Anaheim but the latter have regained home-ice advantage.