Sharks owners likely want a season


Sharks owners likely want a season

Due to NHL commissioner Gary Bettmans threat of a 1 million fine to any team that speaks publicly about the ongoing lockout, no one outside of the Sharks front offices or NHL Headquarters in New York knows exactly how the San Jose ownership group feels about the labor battle.

Publicly, and to no ones surprise, the NHL is presenting a unified front, although the notion that all 30 owners are fine with shutting down the league is absurd (as is the NHLPAs insistence that every one of the 700-plus players dont mind missing paychecks that will never be recovered).

Its been well documented that only eight NHL owners need to be in agreement with Bettman in order to deny any CBA proposal, although really, its seven, as the broke Phoenix Coyotes are run by the league. Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle voiced his frustration about that structure in early October, when his comments here were circulated coast-to-coast in various national and Canadian hockey publications and websites.

RELATED: Boyle bothered by NHL owners' tactics

CBCs Elliotte Friedman on Wednesday made his best educated guess as to the clubs that are considered the hard-liners, and are therefore holding up the bargaining process while they insist on getting as many givebacks (and money) from the players. In his estimation, they are: Boston, Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the New York Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas.

Friedman went on to speculate that teams such as Tampa Bay and Nashville want a better collective bargaining agreement, but recognize not playing is worse.

Which, I would hypothesize, is exactly how the Sharks ownership group is viewing this thing.

As Ive said in the past, the Sharks are a team that should be making money or at least, losing much less. They are clearly run extremely well, selling out 110 consecutive regular season games. There are numerous team-sponsored community events for fans and season ticket holders throughout the year. They play in one of the loudest buildings in the league, and the atmosphere is electrifying. Fans dont have to sit through sales pitches for cheap merchandise at every stoppage of play, and there are no fat guys gyrating to Eye of the Tiger in the stands just to get an artificial rise from the capacity crowd (okay, so maybe thats a personal preference).

Most importantly, they have iced one of the most competitive teams in the league in the last decade, featuring eight straight playoff appearances and a hat trick of Final Fours.

The result? A self-proclaimed 15 million loss last season, and, according to one source, more than 60 million down the drain over the previous four years combined.

The Sharks deserve a friendlier collective bargaining agreement, centered around a lower salary cap. The lockout has become a necessary evil to achieve that, as the players association has not shown much of a willingness to face the financial reality of a middle-of-the-road club like San Jose.

Shortly after the 2011-12 season ended, Sharks ownership, represented by Kevin Compton and Stratton Sclavos, sat down for a Q-and-A with the local media. Weve referenced that discussion here a number of times in (including July 16), but it bears repeating that, according to them, revenues have not kept up with expenses, and Sclavos even admitted that seeing the salary cap rise as it has to 63.4 million last year has been frustrating.

Whats probably just as exasperating is that the Sharks arent one of the teams to blame for where the league is now in terms of player costs. Sure, theyve signed some cornerstone guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to big deals, but none of those were blatantly awful at the time they were inked. The Sharks have avoided the monster, long-term contracts that some clubs hand out like fun-size Snickers bars on Halloween night.

In the leagues most recent CBA proposal, it was revealed that if a player retired before fulfilling his contract, the team that signed him to that contract would be on the hook for the deal in terms of salary cap space. For example, if the Kings Mike Richards decided to hang up his skates this summer, the Flyers would be burdened with a 5.75 million cap hit through 2020 when Richards contract expires, since they were the ones that originally signed him. Ouch.

Privately, the Sharks ownership group and front office likely snickered in approval at such a clause, as it could potentially punish teams like Philadelphia for handing out such contracts that have driven up overall costs for everyone else.

But, getting back to the point its hard to imagine that the Sharks owners would be among those pushing for a my way or the highway approach that has so far been utilized by Bettman and his hard-liners. San Jose is coming off of its worst regular season since 2002-03, and an aging core is only getting older. Other local teams like the Giants, As and 49ers are all at or near the top of their respective leagues, and all are competing for the Bay Area citizenrys discretionary income which just got more expensive for Sharks fans, after a summer ticket price increase.

A lost season, on the heels of the previous lockout of 2004-05, could be disastrous for a number of teams, including the Sharks. Sure, the rabid fan base that packs HP Pavilion would likely remain, but there is much more to generating income than ticket sales alone. Its the casual fan the one attends three or four games a year, watches maybe a dozen more, buys the odd hat or t-shirt, and tunes in for the playoffs, that could look for other alternatives for their attention and their hard-earned cash.

The players association, at the moment, looks like its playing the dangerous game of counting on internal strife to develop among the owners. Whether or not that occurs could determine if theres hockey, or if another season gets flushed away.

And if its the latter that happens, every last owner and player will bear some of the responsibility.

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

DALLAS – Brent Burns hasn’t altered his routine, despite his name not showing up on the scoresheet for a little while.

“It’s not like I stopped eating the same meal or I’m not sleeping anymore,” Burns said on Thursday, after a rare Sharks road practice. “It’s the same. I do the same thing every game.”

What he hasn’t been doing every game, like he seemed to be for the first three-quarters of the season, is racking up points. The Norris Trophy frontrunner hasn’t potted a goal in his last 14 games, and is scoreless in his last seven. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, and has four more points than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most among NHL defensemen, but there’s no denying he’s hit a cold streak. Previously, he hadn't gone more than three games without a point.

He’s not the only one, of course, as the Sharks have managed just four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses. But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s often the top guys that have to lead the resurgence. And no one has been better or more important to the Sharks this season than the 32-year-old blueliner.

Could it be that as Burns goes, so do the Sharks? The team is 33-9-3 when Burns finds the scoresheet, and just 9-15-4 when he doesn't.

Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t think so, though, pointing to the Sharks putting up plenty of offense at the start of Burns’ dry spell, including nine combined goals in wins over Dallas and Buffalo last week.

“I don’t think we only score when Brent Burns is on. I think we’re deeper than that. I think we’ve shown that,” DeBoer said. “He hasn’t scored in awhile, and up until a few games ago we were putting up some significant goals and numbers and offense. 

“I think even the nights he’s not scoring, we’ve generated lots of chances. Other than the St. Louis game (a 4-1 loss on March 16), the last three games we’ve lost, we’ve generated enough chances that on a lot of nights that’s three or four goals. But, that’s not just [on] Burnzie…It’s some other guys bearing down and sticking it in the net. It will come.”

Joe Thornton believes that the forwards can also do more to help Burns, who has become the team’s most valuable offensive weapon with his ability to get shots or passes through from a distance with velocity and precision like few players in the NHL can.

“He’s obviously a dominant player, and I think we just need to help him out,” Thornton said. “It shouldn’t always be on one guy, I think we’ve got to give him better opportunities to put him in better spots. It shouldn’t all lay on his shoulders. We’re not doing a good enough job to kind of work away from him, and getting him opportunities.”

Burns, of course, is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. During practice, his hooting and hollering can typically be heard echoing throughout the rink. Simply put, no one has more fun than this guy.

So, is the cold streak weighing on him? Maybe a little bit.

“I think it weighs on him, for sure,” DeBoer said. “We have good dialogue, there’s a lot of communication, especially with him and [assistant coach Bob Boughner]. And also, him and his teammates. The guys know how much responsibility he takes on himself – sometimes too much. Guys are good with that, they recognize that.”

Thornton said: “When you’re a d-man and you get so many goals and so many assists, you kind of expect it’s going to happen every night, but that’s just not the reality of it. He’s doing something that hardly [any] d-men do in the history of the game. … He’s capable of just getting out of that quick, and pouring it on like he has in the first 65 games of the year.”

For now, Burns is taking every new day and new game as it comes, and said: “It’s no different if you’ve won four in a row and you’ve got 10 points.”

And if he did have 10 points in his last four games?

“You want 12. If you’ve got zero, you want one. Then 12,” he said.

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

DALLAS – Injured Sharks forwards Jannik Hansen and Melker Karlsson both returned to the ice for Thursday’s practice in Dallas, in what Pete DeBoer called “a good first step” in their recoveries.

The coach left open the possibility that one or both could play against the Stars on Friday night, even though neither was skating on a set line for practice.

“We’ll have to wait and see how they feel [Friday] morning and what the recovery is,” DeBoer said. “I’m not prepared to say they’re in tomorrow, but it’s a good sign they’re on the ice and participated.”

Hansen has been out for the past two games since getting a stick in the head from defenseman Brandon Montour on Saturday against Anaheim. 

“Took a couple days [off] to make sure everything was aright,” Hansen said. “Getting better, back on the ice today.”

Officially, it’s an upper body injury. When pressed if it was a concussion issue, Hansen said: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say to begin with, but obviously you do all the precautionary things that [are] involved now.”

Although he has just one assist in his first six games with the Sharks, Hansen seemed to spark the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as the line generated one even strength goal in each of the first four games Hansen played.

Karlsson has missed the last six games with a lower body injury. He has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games with a plus-nine rating.

* * *

The lines remained the same for Thursday’s practice. Patrick Marleau was with Thornton and Pavelski; Logan Couture centered Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker; Tomas Hertl was between Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, while the fourth line sweaters were worn by Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley, Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan.

San Jose stayed over in St. Paul on Tuesday night and flew to Dallas on Wednesday morning on their day off.

The Wild game, a 3-2 loss, was the Sharks’ fourth straight. They’ve generated just four goals over that span.

That game also capped off a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Sharks, who now have just a two-point lead on Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division – a lead that was nine points before the losing streak began.

Was the day off good?

“Yeah. We’ve been kind of struggling scoring goals, so just to kind of relax yesterday and then kind of get back and refocus today,” Thornton said. “But sometimes you just need a little time away from the rink. I think yesterday was needed.”

DeBoer said: “I think our group is pretty mature. I don’t think we’re overeating to the situation. No one’s happy we’ve lost a few, but we also know that we’ve done enough good things that we could have won two or three of those games. We’ve just got to stick with it, clean up a couple things, and score some goals.”

* * *

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic skated after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. Tierney missed Monday’s game in Dallas, also due to illness.

Is that all gone now?

“Knock on wood. Nothing today. Hope so,” DeBoer said.