Thornton hoping to avoid another lockout


Thornton hoping to avoid another lockout

SAN JOSE -- For Joe Thornton and a select few San Jose Sharks that are in already back in town, its business as usual at the teams practice facility.

On Thursday at Sharks Ice, Thornton, who spent the majority of his summer in Switzerland and Canada, and new teammate Brad Stuart were the only two players to lace them up in preparation for the upcoming 2012-13 season. The time was generally spent stretching and skating laps, as the pair of veterans work at getting back into playing shape after four months off. Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss were also in the building, but didnt skate on this day, instead opting for an off-ice workout.

Unfortunately, though, Thornton and the rest of the NHL constituency have to pay as much attention to whats happening off the ice and as what they need to do to on it. The latest round of collective bargaining talks on Thursday in Toronto only provided more pessimism that the season will actually start on time, with commissioner Gary Bettman telling reporters that the two sides remain far apart on key economic issues.

The Sharks are scheduled to open the regular season on Oct. 12 in Anaheim, while training camp starts in less than a month on September 21. The likelihood of those two events actually happening on time seems like a long shot, at best.

The current CBA expires on September 15. A second lockout in the last eight years of business is on the horizon.

And thats not very appealing to the Sharks captain.

After living it the one year and not playing in the NHL, you definitely dont want to do it again. I love to play, its my joy to play hockey. Thats what I love to do, said Thornton.

Last time when they told us we couldnt, it was heartbreaking. But, we still have got a couple weeks left of negotiations. Hopefully, they can figure things out and let us play. It would be a shame if we didnt.

There arent many players still in the league that sacrificed more than the Sharks captain in 2004-05. Thornton had just completed the first year of a three-year, 20 million contract with Boston, meaning he failed to collect almost 7 million in the last lockout. He turned 25 in the summer of 2004, and was just entering the prime of his career. Thornton finished third in the league in scoring in 2002-03 with 101 points, and had 73 points, tied for the 16th in the league, in 2003-04.

RELATED: Joe Thornton career stats 2011-2012 game logs

Its probably safe to assume that certain NHL owners are pinning at least a portion of their hard-line strategy in CBA negotiations on the hope that players like Thornton, and other veterans like Patrick Marleau, Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle, Marty Brodeur and Daniel Alfredsson to provide some pressure on the rest of the union to make sure the season starts as soon as possible. Another lengthy lockout, along with more lost wages that will never be recovered, wont sit well with players that have already sacrificed so much.

Thornton wasnt willing to go there, not surprisingly, but did articulate that every single player in the union has the opportunity to express his views.

Theres 800 guys in this union, and everybody gets a voice, said Thornton, whos keeping abreast of union matters via text messages, conference calls and the NHLPA website. Everybody understands what happened in 2004. I dont know how many guys or percentage of the union was a part of that, but it was nasty.

There are a lot of relatively new players that havent gone through this and this is the first go round. Theyve got to be informed, and make sure they go to the player meetings and make sure they are in the conference calls to see whats going on, and understand whats going on. Im sure they want to play, and as hockey players, we all want to play.

There was a report last week out of Switzerland that Thornton would return to HC Davos, where he played in 2004-05 and maintains a residence close by, in the event of another long lockout. Thorntons older brother and agent John Thornton shot that down, though, and Joe himself said hes not concerned with relocating just yet, even though its assuredly crossed his mind.

Until they tell me I cant play here, Im not really thinking about anything, he said. Im back here, and planning on starting camp on the 21st. Until they tell me otherwise, Im planning on stepping on the ice and trying to win a Stanley Cup here in San Jose.

My thought process is, were going to start training camp when its supposed to start. Whatever happens after that happens after that, but my focus is playing from the start of this year.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles


Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived


Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.