The San Jose Sharks are somewhat unique in that, in recent years, they have had two players on the team who had been stripped of the captaincy, playing alongside the incumbent captain. The Sharks now have to look elsewhere now that those players are gone.
The Sharks have gone through a handful of captains this decade. After stripping Patrick Marleau of the captaincy, they entered the 2009/10 season with defenceman Rob Blake as captain. The present-day Kings GM scored 30 points (7G, 23A) in 70 games in his only season as captain before retiring from pro hockey. For 2010/11, Joe Thornton was picked to be the captain. Thornton would score 263 points (57G, 206A) in 292 games for the Sharks, continuing to produce offence at a high level, despite losing a gear offensively, especially in the goal-scoring department. Thornton’s captaincy also came at a time when he had already won the awards he’d win in his career and made all the All-Star appearances he’d get as well. Thornton’s captaincy actually represents a hiccup in their years of competitiveness. A second straight first-place division finish and Conference Final run in 2011 gave way to three years in which the Sharks seemed very beatable and had even less regular season and playoff success, foreshadowing their non-playoff year in 2015 after Thornton lost the “C.” His own individual fortunes, as well as those of the team, would only reverse, if only for one season after Thornton’s successor was named, with Joe Pavelski captaining the team in 2015/16 to the Stanley Cup Final while Thornton finished with a then-anomalous 82 points. Pavelski would score 276 points (127G, 149A) in 320 games. Pavelski performed well, though his first year as captain would give way to years of decline offensively, as he finished under 30 goals in each of the following seasons and only returned to 38 last season, while having not reached 70 points since 2016. Pavelski also represented the Sharks in the 2016, 2017, and 2019 All-Star Games. Pavelski has since signed with the Dallas Stars.
The Sharks have some attractive options to hand the “C” going forward. If they opt not to pick one, then it’s because they have legitimate options to share the load. There would be precedent for this. Back in the 2014/15 season, the Sharks had stripped Thornton of the captaincy and had both him and also-former captain Patrick Marleau, as well as Pavelski and defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic as alternates. The Sharks could decide to go that route again this season.
Couture has been mentioned as a potential pick for the Sharks’ new captain. In terms of his on-ice impact, it’s clear he has the resume for it. He finished two seasons ago with a career-high 34 goals, his third 30-goal campaign, and finished last season with a career-high 70 points, and has 240 goals and 507 points dating back to his 2009/10 debut and 2010/11 rookie year, amassing this total while jockeying for position on the roster with both Thornton and Pavelski. What’s more is that Couture is beginning an eight-year contract with the Sharks, meaning he will be around for a long time.
Vlasic could be another pick for captain. In his time with the Sharks, Vlasic has been a standout defensive defenceman and an underrated cog in the Sharks machine, even if his performance slipped this past season. The main thing going for Vlasic as a possible captain is longevity. A 2005 draftee who has been with the Sharks since 2006/07, he is the longest tenured member of the Sharks, assuming Joe Thornton, who has been with the Sharks since the 2005/06 season, doesn’t return, and is entering the second year of his own eight-year deal.
Burns’ suitability for the captaincy speaks for itself. Burns has finished each of his last five seasons with at least 12 goals and 60 points, his entire stint with the Sharks amounting to 143 goals and 466 points in the teal and grey. Two years removed from back-to-back 27- and 29-goal seasons and coming off a career-high 83-point campaign, Burns shows no signs of slowing down his offensive contribution. At age 34, Burns is certainly at an age where added leadership responsbility shouldn’t adversely affect him, and his big personality wouldn’t hurt either.
Despite the case I make for the two defencemen here, I still think it will be Couture. Couture is at a point where he has a lot of experience, both with the Sharks and in general, but a lot left to give as well, whereas Vlasic may be on the decline and Burns is at a later point in his career, as good as he is at not showing it.