The Sharks have a new captain!

Joe Thornton will wear the “C” on his jersey this season after being named the eighth fulltime captain in Sharks history Thursday.

Coach Todd McLellan disclosed his choice shortly after the team completed practice at the Globe Arena and one day before San Jose opens the 2010-11 season here Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Thornton jokingly likened his new responsibilities to his becoming a first-time father this past summer: “I have to look after one kid at home and 22 on the road.” McLellan also announced that Dan Boyle will wear a “permanent ‘A’ ” on his jersey as a full-time assistant captain while Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe will share the other assistant position. Marleau will have the responsibility at home games, Clowe on the road.

“You grow as you age, and you kind of mature as a player,” Thornton said. “I think you become more comfortable in your skin. Back then, you maybe let your game speak louder than your words and I think now you consider both. You can stand up and tell guys how it is or just go out and play.”

Sharks new goalie, more vowels and less paycheck

As a goalie, compared to the exiting Evgeni Nabokov, what does Antero Niittymaki bring to the Sharks? That’s easy to answer: more vowels, and smaller paychecks. But that’s just the bottom line. And to look at Thursday as just a goalie exchange for the Sharks would be missing the point.

For the opening of hockey free-agent season, the Sharks had a two-prong attack strategy. And it succeeded, more or less. The first prong unfurled a week ago. The Sharks needed to keep Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski from reaching the free-agent market. This was accomplished when the two signed for millions less than they surely would have been offered on the open market — or even in a semi-open market in Pavelski’s case, because he was a restricted free agent.

To understand how important all of that was, just watch what happens when Ilya Kovalchuk completes his free-agent ride. Kovalchuk, who scored two fewer goals than Marleau last season, is angling for a $9 million-per-season contract and will get it from some team. That’s about $2 million more per season than Marleau’s new deal. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson can tell you the real benefits of Marleau and Pavelski’s acceptance of lesser dollars, in addition to the obvious benefit of keeping both men in teal uniforms. The signings allowed Wilson to plan out the rest of the summer, plus gave him more dollars to work with in terms of filling the two other lines of his offseason dance card. “It gives us flexibility,” Wilson said. “Flexibility is a good thing.”

Thus came the second Sharks prong of the free-agent season, which was unveiled at 9:01 a.m. Thursday. Wilson telephoned the agent of Niittymaki, the goalie from Finland who spent last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After some opening dialogue, the agent spoke with Niittymaki, who by 10 a.m. was also on the phone with Wilson. An hour after that, the deal was done. “It was the first phone call I got,” Niittymaki said, “and that was pretty much it.”

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Thank goodness, because I’m tired of streaming the games online

First game of Sharks vs. Blackhawks series will air on NBC

The San Jose Sharks announced today that Game One of the Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks will take place on Sunday, May 16 at Noon (Pacific) at HP Pavilion.The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC.

I was getting really tired of using my pixelated sport-streaming websites to find the game on, since my Dish doesn’t have Comcast Sports Network (obviously =p)