|ESPN.com: LeBrun||[Print without images]|
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Patrick Marleau was quick to correct me.
As I stood there in the San Jose Sharks' dressing room asking him about the way he's responded after being stripped of the captaincy last summer, the star forward politely yet clearly made sure I had my facts straight.
"I don't think it was as much of a stripping as a kind of an agreement with [coach] Todd [McLellan] and with [GM] Doug [Wilson]," Marleau said. "It was a different look for our club and maybe something that will make us turn that corner come playoff time and hopefully come home with a Stanley Cup."
That, in a nutshell, tells you about why Marleau understood the decision and bought into it -- anything that could help this talented yet underachieving team to get over the playoff hump. You can question his playoff performances, but you can't question his commitment to his teammates. He puts the team first. Some players might have sulked after losing the "C", but Marleau has thrived in the opening three months of the season.
His three-point performance in San Jose's 4-1 win over Anaheim on Thursday night now gives him 37 points in 35 games.
"I'm not surprised one bit," said McLellan, who handled a potential bombshell situation with impressive dexterity. "Patty is a player that genuinely cares about his teammates and the Sharks organization, and he'll do whatever it takes to be a winner. We just felt we needed a change. We couldn't keep going with the same thing. Patty responded very well."
There's no "C" stitched on Marleau's jersey anymore, but McLellan still includes him in meetings with the leaders of the team.
"We make him just as important as he was in the past," said McLellan. "If we talk to the leaders, Patty is included. If we make decisions as group with the captains, Patty is included."
In keeping with the effort to make this a seamless transition, one with the least amount of controversy possible, Rob Blake made sure to meet with Marleau and make sure it was OK that he become the captain.
Marleau hasn't looked back.
"What it's done is it removed that weight off his shoulders when he has to answer for everybody else's actions as the captain," said McLellan. "Right now, he just has to concentrate on his own. He gets the odd collective question, but it's more about worrying about what he does."
Sharks star center Joe Thornton said nothing fazes Marleau. It's exactly the kind of reaction he expected from him.
"I think he wanted to prove to his teammates, nobody else, just his teammates, that he's still a leader," said Thornton. "We still consider him a leader on this team. He wants to be here, he loves this organization. From Day 1 since he lost his captaincy, he's been just like he's always been. Hasn't changed at all."
Marleau is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. We asked Wilson about Marleau's impending contract status, but per his usual policy, the GM would not comment. Given the history here over the past few years, the safe play is to wait and see how the team and Marleau perform this spring. Same goes for goalie Evgeni Nabokov, another UFA July 1.
If the Sharks do win the Cup this season, Marleau won't get to hoist it first since he's not captain. But I'm guessing Mr. Blake would quickly hand off to Marleau next. He's not the captain anymore, but he remains a big piece of this team.