Sharks owners likely want a season


Sharks owners likely want a season

Due to NHL commissioner Gary Bettmans threat of a 1 million fine to any team that speaks publicly about the ongoing lockout, no one outside of the Sharks front offices or NHL Headquarters in New York knows exactly how the San Jose ownership group feels about the labor battle.

Publicly, and to no ones surprise, the NHL is presenting a unified front, although the notion that all 30 owners are fine with shutting down the league is absurd (as is the NHLPAs insistence that every one of the 700-plus players dont mind missing paychecks that will never be recovered).

Its been well documented that only eight NHL owners need to be in agreement with Bettman in order to deny any CBA proposal, although really, its seven, as the broke Phoenix Coyotes are run by the league. Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle voiced his frustration about that structure in early October, when his comments here were circulated coast-to-coast in various national and Canadian hockey publications and websites.

RELATED: Boyle bothered by NHL owners' tactics

CBCs Elliotte Friedman on Wednesday made his best educated guess as to the clubs that are considered the hard-liners, and are therefore holding up the bargaining process while they insist on getting as many givebacks (and money) from the players. In his estimation, they are: Boston, Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the New York Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas.

Friedman went on to speculate that teams such as Tampa Bay and Nashville want a better collective bargaining agreement, but recognize not playing is worse.

Which, I would hypothesize, is exactly how the Sharks ownership group is viewing this thing.

As Ive said in the past, the Sharks are a team that should be making money or at least, losing much less. They are clearly run extremely well, selling out 110 consecutive regular season games. There are numerous team-sponsored community events for fans and season ticket holders throughout the year. They play in one of the loudest buildings in the league, and the atmosphere is electrifying. Fans dont have to sit through sales pitches for cheap merchandise at every stoppage of play, and there are no fat guys gyrating to Eye of the Tiger in the stands just to get an artificial rise from the capacity crowd (okay, so maybe thats a personal preference).

Most importantly, they have iced one of the most competitive teams in the league in the last decade, featuring eight straight playoff appearances and a hat trick of Final Fours.

The result? A self-proclaimed 15 million loss last season, and, according to one source, more than 60 million down the drain over the previous four years combined.

The Sharks deserve a friendlier collective bargaining agreement, centered around a lower salary cap. The lockout has become a necessary evil to achieve that, as the players association has not shown much of a willingness to face the financial reality of a middle-of-the-road club like San Jose.

Shortly after the 2011-12 season ended, Sharks ownership, represented by Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos, sat down for a Q-and-A with the local media. Weve referenced that discussion here a number of times in (including July 16), but it bears repeating that, according to them, revenues have not kept up with expenses, and Sclavos even admitted that seeing the salary cap rise as it has to 63.4 million last year has been frustrating.

Whats probably just as exasperating is that the Sharks arent one of the teams to blame for where the league is now in terms of player costs. Sure, theyve signed some cornerstone guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to big deals, but none of those were blatantly awful at the time they were inked. The Sharks have avoided the monster, long-term contracts that some clubs hand out like fun-size Snickers bars on Halloween night.

In the leagues most recent CBA proposal, it was revealed that if a player retired before fulfilling his contract, the team that signed him to that contract would be on the hook for the deal in terms of salary cap space. For example, if the Kings Mike Richards decided to hang up his skates this summer, the Flyers would be burdened with a 5.75 million cap hit through 2020 when Richards contract expires, since they were the ones that originally signed him. Ouch.

Privately, the Sharks ownership group and front office likely snickered in approval at such a clause, as it could potentially punish teams like Philadelphia for handing out such contracts that have driven up overall costs for everyone else.

But, getting back to the point its hard to imagine that the Sharks owners would be among those pushing for a my way or the highway approach that has so far been utilized by Bettman and his hard-liners. San Jose is coming off of its worst regular season since 2002-03, and an aging core is only getting older. Other local teams like the Giants, As and 49ers are all at or near the top of their respective leagues, and all are competing for the Bay Area citizenrys discretionary income which just got more expensive for Sharks fans, after a summer ticket price increase.

A lost season, on the heels of the previous lockout of 2004-05, could be disastrous for a number of teams, including the Sharks. Sure, the rabid fan base that packs HP Pavilion would likely remain, but there is much more to generating income than ticket sales alone. Its the casual fan the one attends three or four games a year, watches maybe a dozen more, buys the odd hat or t-shirt, and tunes in for the playoffs, that could look for other alternatives for their attention and their hard-earned cash.

The players association, at the moment, looks like its playing the dangerous game of counting on internal strife to develop among the owners. Whether or not that occurs could determine if theres hockey, or if another season gets flushed away.

And if its the latter that happens, every last owner and player will bear some of the responsibility.

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

SAN JOSE – Like a handful of NHL goaltenders, Martin Jones prefers not to speak to the media on the morning of nights he’s playing. So when the 27-year-old Sharks netminder was named as an All-Star before a game in Edmonton on Tuesday, the media in attendance respected his typical game day routine.

His friends and family, though, may not have been aware of his preference for limited interaction. Congratulations were in order for Jones, who will be a part of the Pacific Division team in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend from Jan. 27-29.

“I was trying to push it to the next day, obviously we had a game that night,” Jones said. “Lots of texts from family and friends. Everyone was pretty excited.”

Jones knew it was a possibility that he might be named. In his second season as the Sharks’ primary starter, and coming off of a brilliant playoff run, he’s tied for fifth in the NHL with 21 wins and his 2.26 goals-against average is ninth. He’ll return to the venue where he started his NHL career as a backup to Jonathan Quick from 2013-15.

Asked for his reaction when he got the news Tuesday morning, which was also his birthday, he said: “I was excited, it’s going to be a fun event. Just going to be really cool to play with all those guys, and it’s kind of fun that it’s in L.A., as well.”

Other than Brent Burns, a case can be made that Jones’ is the Sharks’ most valuable player through the first half. The club hasn’t been scoring goals at its typical rate; rather, it’s been relying on its defensive structure to keep the other team from getting on the board.

That, of course, includes Jones. Although he doesn’t often see many shots, as the Sharks are give up the third-fewest at 27.0, he usually has to make a handful of difficult saves on a nightly basis. That’s a result of Pete DeBoer wanting his club to play an aggressive style, in which defensemen are encouraged to get involved in the offensive end.

“I’d like to think that we’re aggressive and we still don’t give up a lot of chances, but there’s no doubt we give up a handful of quality chances a night,” DeBoer said. “That’s the difference in the games, and [Jones] knows that. He might not get 40 or 50 shots, but he’s going to get 25 and a handful of quality chances. If he can make a couple big saves a night for us, that’s usually the difference.”

Paul Martin said: “I think he solidifies our team in general. When you have him back there to make the easy consistent saves, and stand on his head and make big saves – you need those in critical parts of the game. I think he’s continued just to get better, as well.”

Jones has been much more consistent than the start of last season, when he got off to a scorching start, cooled off in November and December, but was a rock over the second half and in the playoffs.

This season, he posted a 2.15 GAA and .916 SP in October, followed by a 1.96 GAA and .924 SP in November, followed by a 2.24 GAA and .916 SP in December.

That’s consistency, and it’s all an NHL team wants from it’s goaltender. The knowledge that he will be there to make the routine saves with some spectacular ones mixed in gives confidence to the group to just play its game. Jones is doing that.

DeBoer said: “The guys just want to know what to expect every night, and that he’s going to stop the ones that he should stop. That’s all anyone’s looking for, and I think he does that as well as anyone in the league.”

There’s another part of it, too, according to the coach. It’s something that can’t be measured on scoresheets.

“The guys like him,” DeBoer said. “That’s the other part about goaltending that you have to remember, is the guys have to want to play hard for you. He’s a great teammate, and a real popular guy, and the guys want to go the extra mile when he’s in there because of that.”

That’s why on that morning in Edmonton, while Jones was in game-prep mode, his teammates were happy to comment on their goaltender, who they will need to continue to play well over the next three months and beyond. The All-Star nod is the latest evidence that Jones is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best.

“This year with the year he’s had and getting the All-Star nod, it’s nice to see that he’s become a star in this league now,” Joe Thornton said on that chilly morning in Alberta, while Jones was sitting in the corner, unstrapping his pads.

Three takeaways: Sharks' power outage continues vs Blues

Three takeaways: Sharks' power outage continues vs Blues

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ suffered one of their worst defeats of the season, getting shut out by a Blues club that had been having tremendous difficulty keeping the puck out of its own net lately. The three main takeaways from the ugly 4-0 loss…

1 – Thornton awaiting punishment?
It’s difficult to say whether the NHL will further punish Thornton for spearing Paul Stastny. Perhaps the five-minute major and game misconduct midway through regulation was plenty for the transgression. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was fined for a similar play in a December game Ottawa in on Erik Karlsson, though, and it wouldn’t completely shock me if Thornton gets Monday’s game off against Winnipeg as those kinds of stick infractions are frowned upon. We’ll see.

The bigger issue though is just how confused the Sharks looked without their top line center. They managed just 11 shots over the final 29 minutes when Thornton was kicked out, and never really looked like they were into the game after that. Perhaps that was partly due to St. Louis turning up the intensity, but signing Thornton to an extension only looks that much more important after witnessing how the team played without him – even if he is slowing down a bit, and looking for that first goal into a manned net.

2 – Still powerless
It’s baffling just how bad the Sharks power play looks on most nights. Saturday was no different. Sure, Joe Pavelski should have converted on that five-on-three, but that was really their only dangerous chance on that advantage. Then, after the Blues gifted them a four-on-three power play after Thornton’s major, they didn’t get any good looks on that one, either.

This was a Blues penalty killing unit that had been brutal lately, too, allowing at least one power play goal against in eight of its last nine games. The Sharks got just three shots on goal in 3:20 of power play time, while allowing Colton Parayko to score on a brief St. Louis advantage.

“The power play could have been a turning point for is in a positive way for us, and wasn’t,” Pete DeBoer said.

Brenden Dillon said: “Special teams are huge. It can win and lose games, and tonight unfortunately we were on the opposite side of that.”

The Sharks are now just 15-for-106 on the power play since Nov. 1 (14.1 percent). On this team, that’s inexcusable.

3 – Sinking in the standings
The Ducks, Kings and Oilers all won on Saturday night, making the division as tightly packed as it’s been in some time. San Jose has dropped to third place, four points behind the Ducks and one point behind Edmonton, although the Sharks have played two fewer games than each. They’re also just three points ahead of Calgary, whom they lost to on Wednesday, with three games in hand.

The Sharks continue to give up points to Western Conference opponents, too. While they’ve feasted on the east, going 15-6-0, they are just 10-10-2 against the west. Nine of their next 10 are in the Western Conference, too, so that had better start changing.