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: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

The Sharks placed forward Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve Tuesday, and recalled a trio of players for their game against Los Angeles on Wednesday at Staples Center.

Donskoi has not played since Jan. 11 at Calgary, dealing with an upper body injury that is not believed to be serious. Although he’ll miss his third straight game on Wednesday, the 24-year-old could technically return for Thursday’s home game against the Lightning. In 41 games this season, Donskoi has six goals and 14 points.

Up front, forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow were recalled, suggesting that someone from Monday’s 5-2 win over the Jets might not be able to play against the Kings. Logan Couture blocked a Toby Enstrom shot with about nine minutes to go in that game, and there was no immediate update on his status. The Sharks did not practice on Tuesday morning.

Carpenter has one goal in three games with the Sharks this season, coming on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. He has 20 points (8g, 12a) in 29 AHL games this season. 

Goodrow has yet to make his Sharks season debut, but is first on the AHL Barracuda with 12 goals. He has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 74 career NHL games.

Tim Heed, also recalled, will likely serve as the seventh defenseman filling the void left by an injured Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist).