San Jose Sharks Fans' Top 5 Fears During NHL Lockout
Day 20 of the NHL lockout has come and gone. The regular season was scheduled to start in five days.
Still, there are issues the two sides are not even talking about. Union chief Donald Fehr took a confrontational tone as negotiations broke down without any new ones planned:
"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners. If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort. For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock-out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner."
We are in for the long haul. More and more players are committing to playing overseas. The NHL even canceled regular season games on Thursday, October 4. They have also said that the Winter Classic—a marketing gem—will not be possible without a deal this month.
This gives us a pretty clear picture of how quickly the foundation for a season is giving way. What does this mean for San Jose Sharks fans?
To follow are the five biggest concerns the lockout brings to San Jose's chances of winning a Stanley Cup. Glass half-full types can see the upside of the lockout detailed for San Jose Sharks Examiner.
Obviously, the worst thing that can happen for any fan is the cancellation of the season. But it took until February 16, 2005 for the NHL lockout to officially claim the entire 2004-05 season, so why should San Jose Sharks fans worry about that on October 6?
Because the divide between the players and owners is almost as impassable as it was eight years ago. Because the players are that much more reluctant to give up a quarter of the contracts the owners agreed to pay them after having to do it eight years ago.
It is true that there is no salary cap impasse like the last lockout, but this time players have options. There are already players in Russia's KHL capable of playing on a first or second line or pairing in the NHL. Other European leagues in different countries have a few too many capable role players and developing stars.
If NHL players are willing to relocate (as all those soft "Euros" Don Cherry is always complaining about do every NHL season), every major league overseas could provide at least borderline NHL-calibre teams.
They can take the premiere status of the NHL away from it. And get paid similar money to what the league is trying to pay them.
The more that do, the longer this lockout goes. That is not good news for San Jose.
General manager Doug Wilson has constructed the team payroll to have a lot of choices to make soon. If a canceled season were handled like last time, the Sharks would face free agency decisions on several players. If the calendar was shortened, the required two-week road trip in February could represent one-fourth the season.
Doug Wilson has said it himself: The San Jose Sharks are dealing with a short window.
The team's signature forward combination were the first two picks in the 1997 draft and are now entering their mid-30s. Only one key forward is not past his 28th birthday. (Actually, that should be 29th since one's first birthday is at age zero...just noticed it in the 11th hour, which should be the 12th).
And the Sharks are even older on the blue line. They rely on 36-year-old Dan Boyle to lead that unit in points and minutes. Brad Stuart will turn 33 before any games are likely to be played and will be counted on for a top-four role. Douglas Murray will hit that mark before the season ends.
Stuart and Martin Havlat are new players San Jose will rely on heavily. Getting familiar with their teammates is important.
While Havlat is a returning player, he has fewer than 45 games in teal. Stuart patrolled the blue line while Patrick Marleau was developing into a star, but that was almost seven years ago. The only other Shark he has shared the ice with is Michal Handzus in 2007-08 with the Los Angeles Kings.
They lack the young talent to replace much decline. The contracts are designed to have this team move in a new direction after the 2013-14 season.
Thus, this team as it is has two years. Any team winning it after that would almost certainly have almost half the roster turned over from the current one, a new coaching staff and maybe even a new general manager.
Increased Reliance on Young Talent
The San Jose Sharks have generally filled out their checking lines with proven veterans. But one of the things the competitive teams with lower payrolls have shown is that they can be just as effective with lower-priced talent they can develop at the NHL level.
The Sharks appear to be adopting that approach. Michal Handzus is the only player in his 30s filling out the checking lines. Adam Burish is the only other role-playing forward beyond his mid-20s.
Furthermore, the team is hoping for big things from several players with little NHL experience. They need the time to develop them into the talent they need to replace the presumed outgoing veterans in a couple years.
For instance, Tommy Wingels has played fewer than 50 NHL games including the playoffs. Yet, assuming the San Jose roster stays as is, he is the most likely fill-in to a scoring line in the event of injury and figures to be used on the penalty kill. They would like to give him a lot of games to develop into a third-line threat.
Justin Braun was being counted on for bigger minutes as the season wore on. Now that he has shown he can be defensively responsible, the team would like him to get his offensive rhythm back. That necessitates playing against the best in the world.
Jason Demers needs to rediscover his game. Brent Burns needs to take that next step to challenge Dan Boyle for the biggest minutes.
Instead of that talent being honed as the season wanes, they may be getting schooled because they lacked practice.
Incorporation of Penalty Kill System
The main weakness in the San Jose Sharks since the calendar flipped to 2011 has been the penalty kill. Management went out and found two excellent defensive coaches to help.
Jim Johnson has overseen the transition of the Washington Capitals from a offensive team to a defensive one over the last couple seasons. Larry Robinson oversaw the New Jersey Devils penalty kill that gave up just 12 more goals than it scored last season.
While the coaches can work together during the lockout, they need the players to gel as a staff. More importantly, the players need time in the system to perfect its application.
By the time all that happens, more awful shorthanded play could put the Sharks in a hole that is hard to climb out of in a short season.
Injuries Playing Overseas
This is something all teams have to worry about. But after an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, the San Jose Sharks learned how little depth they still have to endure key losses.
As of now, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Michal Handzus, Douglas Murray, Tommy Wingels, T.J. Galiardi and Jason Demers are all playing overseas.
All of them are expected to compete for over 12 minutes a game next season, so any injury could hurt San Jose's chances of hosting Stanley Cup Finals games. To make matters worse, half of the above list includes key players expected to be closer to or even over 20 minutes.