The Sharks will hold their first practices of training camp Friday in a different state amid a global pandemic, approximately four months later than they're used to.
Perhaps none of the circumstances surrounding camp are stranger than the Jumbo-sized hole in their locker room.
For the first time since 2005, Joe Thornton isn't on the Sharks' training camp roster. He's a Toronto Maple Leaf now, preparing for his 23rd NHL season a continent away from the franchise with which he became synonymous over parts of 15 seasons.
Thornton's absence wasn't lost on anyone, or their ears, when the Sharks reported to the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Ariz. for the first day of training camp Thursday.
"It was a little bit more quiet, but ... it's part of hockey," Tomas Hertl said of the 41-year-old in a video conference call with reporters Thursday. "It's changing. We for sure miss him. I knew Jumbo for eight years. He helped me through my whole career. He was great to me from the [start and] a close friend."
Thornton's 1,055 points in 1,104 games in teal are the second most in franchise history behind Patrick Marleau, who re-signed with the Sharks this offseason, and Thornton's 804 assists are the most. Thornton still compiled 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) while averaging 15:30 per night in 70 games last season, and San Jose will need to replace him down the middle of its third line.
The void is perhaps even larger among the team's leaders. Thornton wore a letter for just about the entirety of his Sharks career, setting the tone with his larger-than-life personality. Captain Logan Couture and defenseman Brent Burns both mentioned they'd read Joshua Kloke's piece in The Athletic earlier this week, which compiled NHL players' best stories about the legendary center.
Replacing the man behind the anecdotes is easier said than done, but Sharks coach Bob Boughner said he noticed Couture being a more vocal leader during small, informal workouts in San Jose. He also mentioned Burns, Hertl, Marleau and veteran defensemen Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as players he expects to speak up more.
"I think the guys know it's their time," Boughner said. "We've got to pick up the slack from where Jumbo [left], and there's certain guys that got to take that opportunity."
Thornton and the Leafs begin training camp Jan. 3, just 10 days before he can debut for Toronto against the rival Montreal Canadiens. While the Sharks prepared to begin life without him, at least one of Thornton's teammates heard from the bearded center Thursday.
Burns revealed to reporters he FaceTimed with Thornton on Thursday morning, noting that meant he technically saw his now-former teammate at the start of camp once again. It surely helped Burns to see Thornton, whom he called "one of his closest friends," but the Sharks have yet to truly begin life without Jumbo.
"I think that as we move along, I think you're going to notice more and more small things that guys had gotten accustomed to," Karlsson said. "So it's going to be a process. We all miss him very dearly, and we wish him all the best in Toronto. We know he's gonna do great there, and the guys there are gonna have to experience the joy that he brings every day to the rink, and that's something we're gonna have to try to fill that void here as quickly as possible."