The NHL lockout that began on September 15th is a bad thing. It hurts hockey fans, team employees, players and even the owners who initiated it.
There are no winners, only losers.
Having said that, the NHL will resume at some point. We all hope it's tomorrow, and if not tomorrow than the day after that. But whether it's next week, next month or next year, the league will be back. And that means the San Jose Sharks will resume their quest for the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup.
As certain as the eventual return of NHL hockey is the return of an altered playing field. Regardless of whether or not salaries are reduced, contract lengths are shortened and so on, the league will be different than it was before.
Despite the overall poor nature of this situation, some teams will benefit on the ice due to this lockout. Others will be worse off. It's impossible to know which teams will end up on which side of this equation, as we still have no idea when and how this lockout will end.
Of course, nothing—not even a lockout—can stop sportswriters from speculating.
The Sharks have long been playoff underachievers, regardless of age.
However, the team is slowly becoming one of the older groups in the NHL, and that may only add to their postseason struggles moving forward. Older players tend to get injured more easily and fatigue quicker, even losing some speed during the stretch run.
If the season is shortened—and, of course, not cancelled completely—key Sharks such as Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Martin Havlat, Brad Stuart and Michal Handzus could play at a higher level for longer.
While every team will be fresher during the playoffs if the season is shortened, older teams—particularly ones with an older core—will benefit more than younger ones. Taking away the negative effects of age gives veterans an advantage over younger players, allowing them to use their more developed skill set and hockey I.Q. without the youngsters being able counter with speed and energy.
While the lockout will favor age if the NHL season is shortened, a fully canceled season will do the opposite.
A cancelled season simply ages every player by a year, without adding to their experience level (although many players will play in other leagues). This hurts every team because no age group benefits. Young players don't improve, while old players decline physically.
Given that, older teams suffer far more than younger teams. Many believe that the Sharks championship window has already closed due to age, so the thought of the team entering their next season—2013-14—with Dan Boyle at 37 and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau at 34 is a scary one.
Since the 2004 lockout (it's unfortunate that we can no longer simply say "since the lockout"), the Sharks have done the same thing every season: Dominate the league for long stretches, go ice cold for others, make the playoffs and get knocked out during the first three rounds.
The offseason always follows, changes are always made, the team enters the next season "hungrier," but the results are the same.
This is not a criticism of the team. Winning Stanley Cups is not a simple matter of will; only one of 30 teams can win each year no matter how many "want it." However, the Sharks do seem to face a team with just a tiny bit extra drive every postseason, and that's always the team that eliminates them.
A lockout—whether it shortens the season, cancels it completely or merely scares and frustrates everyone for a few weeks—could give the Sharks a greater sense of urgency than they've ever had.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson didn't make the major personnel moves that many expected from him this offseason. Rather, he significantly altered his coaching staff.
The reasons for this were numerous. Wilson wanted an improved penalty kill, a more potent blue line and a mentally tougher team. New coaches Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson were supposed to help head coach Todd McLellan instill these qualities.
However, a lockout-shortened season will take away training camps and preseason games, even if it doesn't cut deeply into the regular season. This will harm every team in the league, but particularly one which is attempting to change their identity.
While teams like the Minnesota Wild and Carolina could suffer early as their new stars try to fit in without a preseason to prepare, they will eventually gel. San Jose, on the other hand, will not have a chance to fully re-work and re-learn their penalty kill or prepare for the season differently if training camps and the preseason is shortened or cancelled.
The San Jose Sharks are one of the supposed 18 NHL franchises operating in the red. The biggest reason for the lockout is that NHL owners want to make more profit, and a big part of this is the desire to make top tier talent—or a top tier roster—cost less.
Unlike some teams, the Sharks' financial losses are not cheapening the on-ice product. The team is willingly putting itself into the red by spending at close to the salary cap.
However, if player salaries are reduced, the team should see an increase in profit. While this won't improve the on-ice product in the short term, it will allow the Sharks to spend at the cap and stay competitive for years to come. This will not be the case if the Sharks continue to lose millions every year.
Reducing player salaries could harm the NHL as a whole, as it would weaken the players union and could ultimately drive talent away from the game.
However, a reduction in salary cap would hurt a very specific group of teams—the teams spending near the cap.
A lower cap equals a more level playing field, and teams willing to spend—or capable of spending—to win would be marginalized. The five to seven million dollar contracts that San Jose is willing to throw at stars like Antti Niemi, Brent Burns, Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau would become four to five-and-a-half million dollar contracts in the event of a 17.5 percent rollback.
This would make it so that every team could afford this type of roster, and San Jose would need to rely much more heavily on the draft and finding bargains, rather than paying a premium for premium talent.