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.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.