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Sharks can't elude past at Canada camp

8/27/2009 - NHL

CALGARY, Alberta -- Summer seems to always be the longest season for the San Jose Sharks.

Even at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp, the long shadow of failure dogs the members of the Sharks in attendance.

There was a time when Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau would have been virtual locks to make this Olympic team, but it will be a shock if both are wearing red and white in Vancouver in February.

The notion that Thornton -- a player who has averaged 94 points a season since the lockout and won a Hart Trophy as league MVP -- would be fighting to make the team is nonsensical. Yet at least on some level the perception of Thornton as a player is colored by the Sharks' puzzling failure to capitalize on their wealth of talent in the playoffs.

In short, fair or not, the Sharks' failures are seen by many as Thornton's failures, and vice versa.

Thornton, who has played 24 international games for Canada since becoming an NHLer, pooh-poohed the suggestion that the Sharks' failures might have an impact on his ability to make the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.

"I don't think so. I've played on so many Team Canadas in the past, we've had pretty good success," he said. "You have a good start of the year, I think you have a good shot at making this team."

Perhaps. But the selection process would be a lot simpler for Thornton had he led his team to something other than disappointment in recent playoff years.

As for Marleau, his name continues to be linked to a potential trade with Ottawa for disgruntled winger Dany Heatley and, as of now, has been removed as captain of the Sharks. On the eve of Canada camp, San Jose coach Todd McLellan told reporters in San Jose the team no longer has a captain or assistant captains, and GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com on Wednesday those leadership positions will be reevaluated at training camp.

"It's very simple," Wilson said. "It's about what's best for the team."

Both Marleau and Thornton, an alternate captain, were upbeat about the changes, even if the move suggests the leadership they were providing was wanting. Marleau said he met with both Wilson and McLellan during the summer to discuss the issue.

"It was something that we looked at, and obviously we're going to start with a clean slate going into camp, and hopefully it's going to turn out to be the move that helps us get over the top," Marleau said.

Thornton said he thinks more teams might look at doing something similar to try to change their fortunes.

"They might change their leadership roles and make it a clean slate. So I think it might be pretty innovative, actually," he said.

Still, the sting of losing in the first round to eighth-seeded Anaheim -- the fourth straight season the talented Sharks failed to advance beyond the second round -- remains a constant companion.

"Obviously, having the loss is always in the back of your mind," said Marleau, who was a member of the 2006 Olympic team. "As always, it's something you've got to learn from and move on. I think if we start the season worrying about what we did last year, we're going to be in even more trouble.

"I think, right now, we're just looking for a fresh start, and prove to ourselves and prove to everybody else that we can go farther," he said.

Still, if reminders from the media about the trade talk and misfortunes of last spring have diminished the enjoyment of being at the camp, it is well hidden by both players.

"No, it's just something you have to deal with," Marleau said. "I'm not thinking about it when I'm on the ice or anything like that. I love being out here and love being out with these guys on the ice."

For the record, Marleau said Wednesday he has not been asked to waive his no-trade clause by Wilson.

In the wake of the upset loss to the Ducks, Wilson promised there would be changes, and while those changes might not have been of the dramatic nature many were anticipating, the GM said Wednesday there are nine players who will not be returning this coming season.

"Change takes place in many ways," Wilson said.

If "change" means a new set of leaders stepping to the fore, so be it. There are a handful of youngsters, like forwards Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn, who will push veterans for roster spots out of camp, and the team will have Torrey Mitchell, who missed all of last season with a broken leg.

Still, the prevailing feeling remains that until a major piece is moved, the Sharks' identity will remain untouched. And history has shown that identity has not been strong enough to get them over the hump.

"It's tough. It's a tough position for Dougie [Doug Wilson] to be in," said defenseman Dan Boyle, the third member of the Sharks at the Canadian camp. "It's a first-place team.

"If you miss the playoffs, it's an easier job. You say, 'OK, we're not a top-16 team, we need to make changes.' Having been a first-place team and bowed out early, that's a pretty tough decision on his part."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.