SAN JOSE -- When the Sharks open training camp next month, Joe Thornton won't have the C on his jersey.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Wednesday that the team will begin without a captain or assistants, part of the franchise's intent to change the locker room hierarchy following San Jose's epic playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings after winning the first three games.
That was all news to Thornton, who said he didn't know that he had lost his captaincy until being informed by a reporter.
"I talked with Todd today, and he never mentioned anything about captains or assistant captains," said Thornton.
Later, McLellan acknowledged that he could have been clearer in his "clean slate" talk with Thornton, and that the matter had been clarified.
Earlier Wednesday, McLellan said he had talked with both Thornton and assistant captain Patrick Marleau about the situation.
"I've sat with them, they understand what we're doing," McLellan said. "We are going to have a fresh slate at training camp as far as leadership goes."
How veteran players conduct themselves will determine who gets the special felt letter C on their jerseys going forward. "They'll tell us," the coach added later. "Their actions will speak volumes."
There had been speculation all summer that the Sharks were interested in trading Thornton or Marleau, but both players have no movement clauses in their new three-year contracts and have indicated they want to stay in San Jose.
Thornton repeated that his goal remains to win a Stanley Cup with the Sharks, whose historic playoff loss to the Kings has triggered much self-analysis. He said he would support whoever becomes captain but acknowledged it was an odd situation.
"It's a big honor, and it's a big responsibility," Thornton said, "so it's a little strange when they take it away from you."
Marleau expressed confidence that his leadership skills would continue to be recognized.
"I will do what I have always done," he said in an exchange of texts. "Play hard, be professional on and off the ice, lead by example. That is why I will be wearing a letter after training camp."
McLellan said he did not consider this a case of stripping Thornton of the captaincy, because he has the opportunity to earn it back.
"Thornton could end up being the captain. I don't know, none of us know," McLellan said. "If it's real evident he's the guy, he'll be the captain."
McLellan said that leadership concerns go beyond the two players in formal leadership roles.
"This is not an indictment of the guys who wore the letters," the coach said. "There's 20 other guys that played here last year that should have been participating and influencing the environment, and they need to step up."
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson also suggested the team could rotate the captaincy as it did after the 2003 trade of Owen Nolan. That next season was Wilson's first as G.M., and the job bounced from Vincent Damphousse to Mike Ricci to Alyn McCauley before Marleau was given the C that he held onto until 2009.
The problem developed after an infection from the ACL repair that Torres underwent last fall after a preseason collision with Anaheim Ducks forward Emerson Etem. Torres missed the first 59 games of the 2013-14 season before returning to action on Feb. 27.
He played five of the next six games, then sat out another 17 before returning for the playoffs, where he acknowledged he was playing with pain.
Wilson said Torres recently underwent a procedure in Toronto to alleviate the infection by removing the original graft designed to repair the ACL. The next graft will come from Torres' own tissue, not a cadaver.
No timetable was set for Torres' return, but he needed five months to return to action after a similar operation on Sept. 26, 2013.