A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.
Theme of the Week: The Sharks Finally Implode
If you’re a regular reader of this site’s NHL coverage, you’ve watched us spend the better part of a year trying to figure out the San Jose Sharks. When everyone was blaming Joe Thornton for last year’s crushing playoff loss, we defended him. When they seemed to promise to hit the reset button over the offseason and then didn’t, we were puzzled. When they vowed to be better, we wanted to believe. When they took it outside against the Kings, and lost, we were there. And then we basically gave up trying to make any sense of it all, because this seemed like a team waiting for a wrecking ball that didn’t want to arrive.
It may have arrived over the weekend, as a long-simmering tension between franchise player Thornton and general manager Doug Wilson suddenly blew up in a very public way. The seeds were planted earlier in the week at a gathering of season-ticket holders, when Wilson answered a question about stripping Thornton of the captaincy by explaining that Thornton had “such a big heart that when stress comes on him, he lashes out at people.” Wilson also described delivering the news to Thornton, saying: “I sat him down and said we need other players to step up and share this. He got it. He didn’t like it, but he got it and he understood it.”
Not exactly the most cutting critique ever offered, but it was apparently the final straw for Thornton, who responded to the charges of lashing out under stress by, well, lashing out. “Doug just needs to shut his mouth,” Thornton told San Jose Mercury News reporter David Pollack on Friday. “He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth.”
And with that, it would appear, we can probably move this whole mess from the “awkward” pile on over to “completely unfixable.” Clearly, this blowup has been coming all season long, and the inevitable attempts to patch it over will now ring hollow. The Sharks, at least off the ice, appear to be officially broken.
On the ice, all of this is going on right as the Sharks head into the homestretch very much in playoff contention. They’re four back of the Jets for the West’s final wild-card spot, and had an opportunity to close that gap in Saturday’s matchup against the Hawks. Instead, they gave up four third-period goals on their way to dropping a 6-2 decision. They face the Jets tomorrow night in a crucial game that also serves as the opener to a tough seven-game road trip.
Maybe Thornton’s mini meltdown emerges as the rallying cry for a team that has seemed to be drifting along all season without any real direction. Or maybe it’s just the spark that finally lights the wick for this team to be blown up once and for all in the offseason. We won’t be able to fill in the proper narrative until the Sharks’ season ends. In the meantime, we should all probably shut our mouths, just in case we accidentally imply that Joe Thornton sometimes lashes out.
Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best
The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.
5. Montreal Canadiens (43-19-7, plus-29) They’ve lost five of seven this month, and would surrender first place in the Atlantic with a regulation loss to the Lightning tonight.
4. Anaheim Ducks (44-20-7, plus-13) Still a tough team to figure out. They’re two points out of first overall, despite owning a worse goals differential than the 18th-place Senators.