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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.

Sharks start training camp with familiar face elsewhere: ‘It’s kind of strange’

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AP

Sharks start training camp with familiar face elsewhere: ‘It’s kind of strange’

SAN JOSE — There was something familiar missing in San Jose when the Sharks opened training camp.

For the first time since 1996, the Sharks took the ice for their first training camp practice without Patrick Marleau on the team as the franchise's career leader in games and scoring left as a free agent for Toronto this summer.

"I've spent a lot of years with him. It is kind of strange," said Joe Thornton, who came to San Jose in 2005. "It's his birthday today too. It's a little weird, but he's going to do great up in Toronto."

Marleau had been with San Jose since being picked second overall in 1997 but left the Sharks to sign an $18.75 million, three-year deal with the Maple Leafs in July.

Marleau has 508 goals and 574 assists for 1,082 points. He had 46 points in playing all 82 games last season as he rebounded from a disappointing 2015-16 season by scoring 27 goals, including the 500th of his career. He ranks first in San Jose in career goals, games and points.

Only six players in NHL history have played more games with one team than Marleau's 1,493 in San Jose. The Sharks haven't played a game without him on the ice since April 7, 2009.

"Obviously Patty has meant so much to this organization and this group," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Everyone in this room has pretty much played with him and Patty has done something to help them out. He'll be missed. ... Just by committee somebody will step in and fill that kind of hole. That's what we'll need."

The Sharks made no major additions this offseason so will need to replace Marleau's 27 goals by getting development from younger players like Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan, as well as bounce-back seasons from veterans like Thornton, Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi.

Only Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are back after scoring more than 12 goals last season.

"When I look back at last year we had key people either have down years or miss significant time with injuries or coming off injuries," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I think if we can stay healthy I think we've got a large group of guys that can really take a step this year and I expect a step out of them."

While the Sharks lost Marleau in free agency, they did manage to keep Thornton by giving him a one-year, $8 million contract despite dwindling production last season and offseason knee surgery.

He scored just seven goals — his fewest in an 82-game season since his rookie year in 1997-98 — and was a key part of a power-play unit that uncharacteristically struggled last season. But he still managed 43 assists, teaming with captain Joe Pavelski on San Jose's top line.

Thornton missed the final week of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury before returning for the final four games of a first-round loss to Edmonton. Thornton then underwent surgery to repair his MCL and ACL after the season but was back skating in August and started ramping it up for training camp two weeks ago. Thornton believes the lower-body work he did in rehab this offseason will pay dividends on the ice.

"They feel real strong," he said of his legs. "I feel a lot of pop out there. They're probably as strong as they've ever been just because I had to rehab that knee so much."

Sharks Media Day highlights: Beards, smiles & cup checks

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Sharks Media Day highlights: Beards, smiles & cup checks

The boys were back together in San Jose on Thursday for Sharks Media Day, with plenty of smiles and moments of levity. Check out the highlights...

Hey Jumbo, you dropped something. 👖🤷‍♂️

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Martin Jones is pretty good at photobombs 📸💣

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🤳 Media Day #SJSharks

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New season. New commercials. 🕉🚌📺 #ComingSoon #SharksForLife

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