NHL, players can still minimize damage

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NHL, players can still minimize damage

When the NHL returned from a season-long hiatus in 2005, the list of adjustments to the game and givebacks to the fan base was a significant one.

In many markets, ticket prices were reduced across the board, or at least in certain parts of the arena. The hooking and holding that led to monotonous stretches of play was greatly reduced with a stricter enforcement of the rulebook. Shiny new streamlined uniforms were introduced. The league even revealed a sleek new silver and black logo, an update from the Halloween-themed orange and black emblem from yesteryear.

Eight years later, and in the middle of another labor war thats threatening the league as a viable business, its hard to imagine what kind of bone the league and its players can throw to sports most passionate fans when this mess comes to its conclusion. A full season is not an option, as the lockout has reached its 60th day and has again regressed into a staring match between league and union leadership. Drastic rule changes dont seem likely, and wouldnt be a good idea, anyway.

And, ticket prices? The chance theres an across-the-board reduction from any team is on par with Korean rapper PSY releasing a second international hit.

But, there is something they can do.

Rewind to December 5, 2011. On that day, NHL governors ratified a radical new plan to realign the league into four conferences, two of which would have seven teams while the others had eight. The Sharks would join the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Ducks, Kings, Avalanche and Coyotes in a yet-to-be-named group.

Furthermore and more importantly, for these purposes it was announced that each team in the league would face its non-conference opponents twice a year, ensuring that every club would make at least one annual appearance in every other building.

At the time, the praise for the plan seemed unanimous from both management and players. Joe Pavelski said: I think that, definitely, is good. Some guys play three or four seasons and youre like, I havent even been here yet. It would be nice to see each building once a year.

A little more than a month later, the plan was toast, rejected by the NHLPA. Pavelski cited increased travel and the fact that two conferences had just seven teams as compared to eight in the West Coast-leaning groups. The top four teams from each conference were to qualify for the postseason.

The realignment almost certainly wont happen this season, if there is a season at all. But the portion of the plan that sees every team visit every other team could, and should, still be on the table. Theres still time for a 66-game season that sees each club play its current division opponents four times apiece, and faces every other team in the league twice.

It would be a small but significant token of appreciation in a league that is driven by the hardest of hardcore fans, and would help minimize the damage the two sides have already caused with this asinine game of chicken.

Want to see Zach Parise make his return to New Jersey after departing for greener pastures in Minnesota, Devils fans? No problem. Weve got you covered.

Canucks supporters. Still hoping to get some revenge on the team that broke your hearts in the 2011 Cup Finals? Well, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and the big bad Bruins will be swinging through the Pacific Northwest.

Hoping for a chance to greet Stanley Cup champions Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Flyers faithful, after your team traded away its young stars in order to sign an unstable goaltender? No problem, the Kings will be visiting the City of Brotherly Love.

And, finally, Sharks supporters youve packed the HP Pavilion full night after night for more than 100 consecutive games. What do you get for putting up with yet another nonsensical work stoppage? Youll get a chance to see East Coast superstars Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Claude Giroux skate in the Bay Area.

Of course, for this scenario to have any chance at occurring, the league and union will have to figure out their numerous differences relatively quickly, including economics and contracting differences. Several prognosticators have marked December 1 as a potential start date for the league, and while that may be a bit ambitious now, a window does exist for the two sides to come to an agreement. In 1994-95, Gary Bettmans first lockout ended on January 11, and a 48-game season ran from January 20 May 3.

Working backwards from that date means the league and union will have to get something done by next Thursday Thanksgiving Day. Probable? No, but not impossible. And, in fact, a 66-game schedule could still be feasible if it includes an early December start.

For now, the clock continues to tick. And with it, a discouraged fan base that drives the business grows more and more apathetic.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

SAN JOSE – Just in case there was any question as to the grisly nature of Logan Couture’s mouth injury, the Sharks forward shared a picture on his personal Instagram account on Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.

The photo was taken the night of his injury on March 25 in Nashville, showing several top teeth missing in a mouth that can accurately be described as a bloody mess, after he was hit with a defected puck while standing in front of the net in a game against the Predators.

Couture revealed on Tuesday in a conference call that there was more to his injury that just damaged teeth. He also has some facial fractures, including one above his upper lip that extends to his nasal area, and another that is under the bottom row of his teeth.

The one that’s higher in his face is still painful. 

“Still struggle to eat and sleep. … It’s not a comfortable state to be in,” said Couture, who missed the final seven games of the regular season before returning for the six-game first round series loss to Edmonton.

As for the next step, Couture has yet to sit down with his dentist, although further work is on the horizon.

“There’s going to be some implants to get the teeth fixed,” he said. “Hopefully get it done in the next few weeks, and then I’ll head back to Canada.”

Couture doesn’t yet know how many teeth need to be replaced.

“All depends on how the teeth respond,” he said.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on his left knee on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned, and according to a team statement released later on Tuesday he is expected to "make a complete recovery and be ready for the start of the 2017-18 season." 

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The team declined to give any details about the surgery in its statement, including who performed it and where it was done. 

Thornton played four playoff games against Edmonton despite damaged knee ligaments, head coach Pete DeBoer revealed on Monday, when he said Thornton was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” after getting hurt in Vancouver on April 2.