It was the 2003-04 season, and the San Jose Sharks didn’t have a permanent captain. During the season, they rotated the C among a group of players, including Patrick Marleau, Mike Ricci, Vincent Damphousse and Alyn McCauley.
There was even a competitive aspect to it. A player might get the C for 10 games or so, and if the Sharks crossed a predetermined threshold for wins or points, they got it for another group of games. The Sharks' captaincy was earned.
As the season progressed, the organization wanted something a little more permanent.
A decade of time in between has muddled some of the details, but former Sharks coach Ron Wilson remembers this for sure: If he was naming a captain, he wanted it to be McCauley.
“We had elected Alyn McCauley to be captain and Alyn said ‘No, it’s got to be Patty Marleau,” Wilson said when we chatted on Wednesday. “He said, ‘The players want Patty Marleau as captain and I said, ‘No, the players want you.’”
McCauley saw a player in Marleau who was the future of the franchise, moreso than he was. He saw the captaincy as a growth opportunity for Marleau. In passing on the captaincy, he was putting the franchise first.
“It’s not to say I took it lightly or didn’t want to be captain. There’s only 30 in the league,” McCauley said. “I felt it was in the best interests of the growth of Patty Marleau and the betterment of our team to have Patty as our captain.”
And so that’s what happened. Marleau was named captain that season, had a nice postseason (eight goals in 17 games) and it looked like that issue was solved. Right.
Somewhere along the line during Ron Wilson’s tenure, he saw the team transition to one where Joe Thornton was the leader.
“Toward the end I had tried a couple times to take the C away from Patty,” Wilson said. “I really wanted Joe Thornton to be captain.”
We all know how that turned out: Wilson was eventually fired. Todd McLellan was brought in. Marleau lost the captaincy, Thornton got it. This summer, Thornton lost it, and the Sharks are back to a committee of captains.
And this entire process all started because former Sharks captain Owen Nolan was traded before he could be stripped of the C, a request to consider from management that Ron Wilson said he got when he was first hired.
If you’re wondering why the Sharks have a bit of an identity crisis, this might help explain it.