Amidst NHL labor issues, there are several things to ponder

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Amidst NHL labor issues, there are several things to ponder

Considering that very few folks are actually in those high-level meetings between the NHL's players and owners, and considering that both sides keep very tight lips for strategic reasons, I do not believe speculation helps the masses in trying to dissect a potential work stoppage.

Recently a lot of people have asked if I think there will be a lockout, and how long one could last. My estimations are ever-changing and therefore I have refrained. However, I do have these thoughts to ponder:

Winter Classic -- Not A Friend This Year
After five years of existence, "The Classic" has quickly become a pinnacle event in the NHL's regular season, and looks to remain that way for quite some time as the contest has already been annually scheduled through 2021. However, the gift of an outdoor hockey game could quickly turn into a curse if a lockout takes place.

REWIND: NHL, NHLPA remain far apart

The traditional New Year's Day match is too easy of a beacon, aiming point, or launching pad for the beginning of what could be a condensed season. Subconsciously, it could take pressure off negotiations, in knowing there is a large-scale kickoff event already in place, should the NHL and NHLPA come to terms as late as mid-December.

It is also difficult from a logistical standpoint to see how a meaningful NHL season could begin anywhere after January 1st, even under the most condensed fashion.

Like Cramming for an Exam
It's not to place blame on the players, owners, or even hockey in general. But here's a question regarding Collective Bargaining Agreements across all sports: Why are the two sides not forced to negotiate during the final 12 months of the current arrangement? Essentially, the first proposals should have been hoisted LAST September 15th, so that we would not be arriving at this deadline with such a rushed threat. It's very reminiscent of a college student failing to adequately prepare for an exam, then throwing a last ditch effort together by cramming and hoping for the best. I realize some do their best work under pressure, but billions of dollars are on the line here for both sides, aren't they?

Protecting Owners from Owners
The obvious sticking point between players and owners is money, most specifically how to divide "hockey related revenue." But another interesting angle came out of the league's first proposal, suggesting a limit of contract durations to 5 years.

This, in a single summer where players were signed to 14-year (Shea Weber), 13-year (Ryan Suter, Zach Parise), 12-year (Sidney Crosby), and 10-year contracts (Jordan Staal, Jonathan Quick). One cannot reasonably fault a player for agreeing to these lengthy terms because after all, who wouldn't want to secure (possibly) the rest of their career on paper?

Something to consider is how the owners are actually trying to protect themselves from themselves. I agree -- teams should still have the option to commit to the league's most elite players for double-digit years. However at this rate, it's hard to see how that costly and risky privilege won't soon get out of hand.

Players Have To Stay Classy
For many reasons, the general public is likely to initially side with the players. After all, they are the recognizable faces. They are the ones set to lose guaranteed money in the case of being locked out. And when it's all said and done, they are likely to make more clear-cut concessions than their counterparts. This resonates greatly with the average blue-collar paying customer, in what could essentially turn out to be a war of words.

But ThePlayers, as they like to say on Twitter, would be wise to remain consistently tactful with their message and voice as September 15th approaches and beyond. Because of their social media skills and other avenues to "make waves," the athletes are likely to be conscious and careful, so that proving their points doesn't lose their traction.

Empty Bag of Tricks?
The NHL went to great lengths in recovering from its last lockout in 2004-2005. The league made players much more accessible and promotable to the media and public, in an attempt to make good for an entire season lost. It also certainly didn't hurt that two new "faces of the game" in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin also emerged on the scene the following campaign.

But one has to wonder -- if there is a lockout now, what kind of tricks does the NHL have up it's sleeve to win fans over again? How can the game up it's ante? Certainly we are putting the cart before the horse here, but it would be wise to consider what more reserves this game has, and how it can avoid tapping out of resources if needing to win over an aggravated fan-base, once again.

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

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AP

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

After five seasons with the Sharks, Larry Robinson is leaving the organization.

Robinson, 65, spent the last three seasons as the club's director of player development. He served as an associate coach from 2012-14.

TSN in Montreal and the Montreal Gazette originally reported the news.

The Sharks confirmed that Robinson's contract would be expiring, and general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California that the divorce was amicable, and "because of geography." Robinson lives in Florida.

According to the Montreal Gazette

Robinson’s contract with the Sharks expires on July 1, but agent Donnie Cape said Thursday that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has given him permission to speak with other teams. Robinson lives in Bradenton, Fla., and the long travel distance to San Jose is one of big the reasons he’s looking for a new team to work for.

Robinson seemed to ponder retirement in 2014, but signed a three-year extension to remain in the Sharks' front office. He worked mostly from his home in Florida the past two seasons, making occasional trips to San Jose, including during training camp.

In the summer of 2015, Robinson underwent surgery for skin cancer.

Recognized as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Robinson won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, and holds the NHL record for playing 20 straight seasons in the playoffs. A 10-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Robinson was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 1995-99, and the New Jersey Devils from 1999-2002 and again in 2005-06. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000. Robinson has nine Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach.

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The Sharks did not renew the contract of pro scout Jason Rowe, who had been with the organization for the past nine seasons. Rowe focused on eastern NHL and AHL teams.