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.

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

Marleau back to the middle as Sharks deal with no Couture, Haley

SAN JOSE – All four of the Sharks’ lines have been in a blender for much of the season. 

Now, with Logan Couture out for at least one game and probably longer, and Micheal Haley getting tagged with a one-game suspension, the coaching staff has no choice but to mix and match the remaining forwards in time for Tuesday’s home game with the Rangers.

They’ll hope it’s the right recipe to snap out of what has been a miserable six-game losing streak in regulation, including the last two in which the Sharks have been outscored 13-3 by Dallas and Nashville.

The most notable player to be shifted is Patrick Marleau, who will apparently be centering the second line against New York. It will be just the fifth game he starts at center this season, and first since Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, when he was filling in for an ill Couture.

Marleau, of course, has played plenty of center over the years, including the second half of last season and first handful of playoff games when he was in the middle of the third line.

“I don’t think there’s been a year where I haven’t played center, so it’s just one of those things, move in and out,” Marleau said. “We’re interchangeable throughout the whole lineup, anyway.”

Marleau has been one of the few effective Sharks players lately, with three of the team’s last five goals. He has 26 goals on the season, third on the team, and is fifth on the Sharks in points with 44.

“Patty is playing great. I don’t think we could ask for more from him,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Arguably a lot of nights this year he’s been our best forward. He’s playing hard, he’s playing strong. He’s been a real valuable piece for us. We wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in this year without him and the way he’s played this year.”

Marleau is set to skate with Melker Karlsson and Mikkel Boedker, as Karlsson is good to go after missing the last eight games with a lower body injury. The 26-year-old Swede is having a nice season with 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games.

The third line featured Tomas Hertl between Joel Ward and Marcus Sorensen, while Chris Tierney will center the fourth line with Timo Meier and Joonas Donskoi.

Karlsson, who confirmed he was ready to return, said: “Cooch is out, and we’ll see how long he’s going to be out, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to work hard, and hopefully can get going here.”

Marleau described Karlsson as “tenacious on the forecheck, causes a lot of turnovers. He’s hungry on that puck. He’s going to get his opportunities, and I’m sure he’ll put a few in the back of the net.”

* * *

Of course, the Sharks don’t care who scores the goals, just as long as it’s someone. It’s been a season-long issue for them to get their depth scorers to do more, and if they want any chance at reclaiming first place in the Pacific Division while Couture is out, that will be a necessity.

Among the players that will bring their scoring woes into Tuesday’s game will be Donskoi (no points 13 games), Hertl (no points in 12 games), Boedker (no points in 10 games), Ward (no points in six games), Sorensen (one assist in 10 games) and Tierney (one goal in 12 games).

Could Couture’s absence be a wake up call for those guys?

“I would hope it doesn’t take an injury to get that. That’s something we’re looking for, it’s something we’ve challenged the group to get more out of them,” DeBoer said. 

“They’re the first guys to recognize they’ve got to give us a little bit more. That’s been an ongoing process. The good news is they’ve all done it before. I feel that they all have the ability to raise their level another notch here before the playoffs. I think they have enough character that we’ll see that.”

Time is growing short, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

Marleau said: “When you go into playoffs, [secondary scoring] is usually what makes a difference. We need everybody contributing and guys stepping up at different times. We know that in this room, and guys are looking forward to doing that.”

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

Sharks' Haley suspended one game for punch on Jarnkrok

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Micheal Haley has been suspended one game for punching Nashville’s Calle Jarnkrok on Saturday in San Jose’s 7-2 loss, and will miss Tuesday's home game with the Rangers.

After absorbing a borderline hit from behind into the glass by Jarnkrok, Haley tracked down the Predators forward and promptly delivered a left jab to Jarnkrok’s face at 12:56 of the final frame. He received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play.

According to the video released by the league, Haley “was seeking retribution” for the hit by Jarnkrok, who was already being penalized for boarding, and delivered a “forceful punch on an opponent who was not able to defend himself at the time.”

The 30-year-old Haley, who has never been fined or suspended before in his career, gave his perspective of what happened on Monday.

“We were breaking out there and next thing I know I was face first in the glass,” Haley said. “Just emotions [took over]. Kind of scared from the hit and I just went after him. Looked at him right in the eyes. He saw me. By the time I swung at him his face might have turned a bit. When I went at him I saw him clearly look at me, and I thought he knew I was coming.”

Haley expected Jarnkrok to engage him after the Predators forward delivered the bad check.

“I thought it was a pretty dirty hit, and I thought I gave him ample amount of time. I think he [had] enough time to know what I was trying to do, and trying to get him to fight.”

He added: “In hindsight, I wish none of it happened. I wish I didn’t get hit and I wish I didn’t punch him, but it happened. I don’t think I started it. It wasn’t premeditated or anything. If I missed that punch then we probably don’t have this conversation.”

In 54 games this season, Haley has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. His 110 penalty minutes is fifth in the league.