Joe Thornton isn't happy about recent comments his GM made about the star forward. (USATSI)
Joe Thornton isn't happy about recent comments from GM Doug Wilson. (USATSI)

In an offseason that was at times confusing, the San Jose Sharks management and coaching staff collectively decided to strip the club's captaincy from Joe Thornton. At the time, general manager Doug Wilson spoke of a desire to rebuild on the fly and restructure the team's leadership and culture. Among the moves made over the summer, stripping the 'C' from Thornton was perhaps the most significant and certainly generated the most buzz.

In a question and answer session with season-ticket holders Thursday in San Jose, Wilson addressed the decision to strip Thornton of the captaincy in a much more candid way than he has previously. David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News was on hand to cover the event:

Wilson prefaced his remarks by saying he is a huge Thornton fan.

"He cares about the game so much. The reason we took the 'C' off him ... Joe carries the weight of the team on his shoulders, and he's got such a big heart that when stress comes on him, he lashes out at people," Wilson said, "and it kind of impacts them.

"The pressure and stress, I felt, was getting to Joe," the general manager said. "And 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."

When asked about these comments Friday, Thornton had a curt response via Pollak:

"I think Doug just needs to shut his mouth," Thornton said after his team's morning practice. "I think that's the bottom line."

Thornton added: "All I've got to say is I've been here every day working hard. I haven't taken a sabbatical. He just needs to stop lying, shut his mouth."

Well then.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan, Wilson and San Jose players have downplayed any unrest, even after the Sharks' stunning playoff collapse against the Los Angeles Kings a year ago, but it's clear that the failure shook the team. The resulting moves in the offseason and the decision to strip the captains of their letters didn't appear to bring much optimism for the coming season.

The former Sharks captain made it known that he was not happy to have the 'C' stripped away at the time but has remained relatively quiet on the subject. It also hasn't appeared to affect the veteran forward's play as Thornton has 57 points in 64 games. His 0.89 points per game is just a tad below his absurd career norms. However, now it sounds like he's had enough.

And while all of this infighting is going on, the Sharks are fighting for their postseason lives.

San Jose has won four of its last five and currently trails the last wild card spot (and old nemesis Los Angeles) by three points. The Sharks still face an uphill battle to get in, and now the face of the franchise is peeved at the guy running things.

In Thornton's defense, after months of keeping relatively quiet on the leadership conversation, Wilson and McLellan recently have been somewhat critical of the way things used to be with Thornton as captain.

Wilson's comments to season-ticket holders was more overt, but McLellan recently told a Canadian radio station that he though the team was "better led" without a captain. He also clarified that his statement was "not an indictment on Joe Thornton by any means" but it would be hard for Thornton -- or anyone else for that matter -- to take it any other way.

Thornton has not been one to hold back before, so it's hardly surprising to hear him publicly voice his displeasure with Wilson's comments. It should be a dead topic, but it isn't when management and the coach are willing to make statements like they have in recent weeks.

Now it might be a bigger problem than it needed to be.