After a short postseason run that ended in stunning fashion, the San Jose Sharks have had an entire summer to live with the bitter disappointment of last spring.
Up three games to none against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Sharks surrendered their cushy series lead as the Kings came storming back and won four straight games to knock San Jose out of the 2014 playoffs.
The Kings, hated California rivals of the Sharks, went on to win the Stanley Cup championship, while the Sharks were forced to ponder some difficult decisions facing the future of their team.
Among the most polarizing was the decision last week to strip veteran center Joe Thornton of the captaincy, signaling both general manager Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan’s desire for change with the team’s leadership group.
But according to former Sharks star Owen Nolan, who also was once captain of the team, that won’t change the way “Jumbo” conducts himself on or off the ice.
“It doesn’t make him any less valuable,” Nolan told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation. “He’s going to continue to be a leader on the team, but they may move in a younger direction and get younger players to take on more responsibility.”
That means that, along with Thornton and veteran Patrick Marleau (who no longer is the team’s alternate captain), other players such as Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have to assume a larger role in leading the team this season.
That may be a good thing for the Sharks, considering their string of disappointing playoff runs. Nolan remembers his playing days in Quebec and Colorado, when Joe Sakic was the team captain. Sometimes, he said the team was too dependent on Sakic.
“We had [Sakic] and there was a tendency to lean on the leaders to win games,” said the 42-year-old Nolan, a four-time All-Star. “I think the organization is making time for the younger guys to step up their game.”
With a talented group of centers that includes Thornton, Couture and Pavelski, the Sharks remain stacked down the middle, a tremendous asset for any NHL team. Nolan likes the fact that, despite the shock of last April’s hasty exit, the Sharks did not tear down the entire roster in a knee-jerk reaction.
“I’m sure everyone is disappointed in the way they were put out of the playoffs, but I like the way they didn't panic,” Nolan said. “This team, as a whole, is a good hockey team. They didn't panic. They didn't blow the whole thing up.”
“I believe this is a solid hockey team that can win,” Nolan said. “We'll see how they approach [last season's playoff loss]. Hopefully, they don't dwell on it, but feed off of not wanting that to happen.”
Nolan thinks that will be an earnest point of emphasis once camp opens next month -– learning from mistakes of years past, avoiding the reputation of a team that can't deliver when it counts.
“You certainly don't want to be recognized as going out early,” Nolan said. “You'll have that [sick] feeling in your stomach of not wanting to go out that way again.”
Nolan, who played 1,200 NHL games in his 18-season career, has been skating occasionally with some of the Sharks during the summer, but he insists it is only to stay in good physical shape. He isn't contemplating coming back from retirement, though he admits that the transition has not been easy since he hung up the skates in 2012.
Though he has found other things he loves to do -– the avid outdoorsman hosts a fishing show that airs on Wild TV -– he still misses playing.
“I thought retirement would be a lot easier,” Nolan said. “But it’s in your blood. It's a tough game to let go.”