SAN JOSE -- For Joe Thornton and a select few San Jose Sharks that are in already back in town, its business as usual at the teams practice facility.
On Thursday at Sharks Ice, Thornton, who spent the majority of his summer in Switzerland and Canada, and new teammate Brad Stuart were the only two players to lace them up in preparation for the upcoming 2012-13 season. The time was generally spent stretching and skating laps, as the pair of veterans work at getting back into playing shape after four months off. Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss were also in the building, but didnt skate on this day, instead opting for an off-ice workout.
Unfortunately, though, Thornton and the rest of the NHL constituency have to pay as much attention to whats happening off the ice and as what they need to do to on it. The latest round of collective bargaining talks on Thursday in Toronto only provided more pessimism that the season will actually start on time, with commissioner Gary Bettman telling reporters that the two sides remain far apart on key economic issues.
The Sharks are scheduled to open the regular season on Oct. 12 in Anaheim, while training camp starts in less than a month on September 21. The likelihood of those two events actually happening on time seems like a long shot, at best.
The current CBA expires on September 15. A second lockout in the last eight years of business is on the horizon.
And thats not very appealing to the Sharks captain.
After living it the one year and not playing in the NHL, you definitely dont want to do it again. I love to play, its my joy to play hockey. Thats what I love to do, said Thornton.
Last time when they told us we couldnt, it was heartbreaking. But, we still have got a couple weeks left of negotiations. Hopefully, they can figure things out and let us play. It would be a shame if we didnt.
There arent many players still in the league that sacrificed more than the Sharks captain in 2004-05. Thornton had just completed the first year of a three-year, 20 million contract with Boston, meaning he failed to collect almost 7 million in the last lockout. He turned 25 in the summer of 2004, and was just entering the prime of his career. Thornton finished third in the league in scoring in 2002-03 with 101 points, and had 73 points, tied for the 16th in the league, in 2003-04.
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Its probably safe to assume that certain NHL owners are pinning at least a portion of their hard-line strategy in CBA negotiations on the hope that players like Thornton, and other veterans like Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle, Marty Brodeur and Daniel Alfredsson to provide some pressure on the rest of the union to make sure the season starts as soon as possible. Another lengthy lockout, along with more lost wages that will never be recovered, wont sit well with players that have already sacrificed so much.
Thornton wasnt willing to go there, not surprisingly, but did articulate that every single player in the union has the opportunity to express his views.
Theres 800 guys in this union, and everybody gets a voice, said Thornton, whos keeping abreast of union matters via text messages, conference calls and the NHLPA website. Everybody understands what happened in 2004. I dont know how many guys or percentage of the union was a part of that, but it was nasty.
There are a lot of relatively new players that havent gone through this and this is the first go round. Theyve got to be informed, and make sure they go to the player meetings and make sure they are in the conference calls to see whats going on, and understand whats going on. Im sure they want to play, and as hockey players, we all want to play.
There was a report last week out of Switzerland that Thornton would return to HC Davos, where he played in 2004-05 and maintains a residence close by, in the event of another long lockout. Thorntons older brother and agent John Thornton shot that down, though, and Joe himself said hes not concerned with relocating just yet, even though its assuredly crossed his mind.
Until they tell me I cant play here, Im not really thinking about anything, he said. Im back here, and planning on starting camp on the 21st. Until they tell me otherwise, Im planning on stepping on the ice and trying to win a Stanley Cup here in San Jose.
My thought process is, were going to start training camp when its supposed to start. Whatever happens after that happens after that, but my focus is playing from the start of this year.