The Sharks were well out of Stanley Cup contention before the NHL suspended its season in March due to the coronavirus. San Jose would be out of it under the league’s reported playoff plan, too.
Twelve teams in each conference would make the postseason in a format that The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported last week was the focus of “the NHL’s reopening plan.” ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported Monday, quoting a source, that the playoff format would entirely depend upon when the season resumes and the NHL has “no idea on the timing.”
Whether 16 or 24 teams make the playoffs, the Sharks would not qualify based on the current standings. As a result, San Jose defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t enthusiastic about potentially playing regular-season games if and when the NHL resumed.
"It's tough to say,” Karlsson told NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” “Obviously for us, it doesn't really matter what happens to the season, personally. But at the same time, you do feel for the guys and the teams that are in a totally different position.
“If this would've happened last year when we felt we were right in it, and we were one of the candidates to have a great chance to win the [Stanley Cup], maybe it would've felt different. But as of right now, I don't know what the point is for us to come back if they're gonna play us five games [and we’ll] be away from our family and friends and put ourselves in that position for pretty much nothing.”
The Sharks would be nine points out of a playoff spot if the top 12 teams in each conference qualified for the postseason, and four points back (with a game in hand) if the NHL opted for the top six teams in both divisions. A handful of games very likely would not be enough to erase either deficit, considering San Jose was last in the Western Conference and Pacific Division when the season was paused.
As Karlsson alluded, the Sharks finishing out the regular season likely would also mean doing so away from San Jose. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported Monday that the NHL still intends to resume its season with four “hub” cities with NHL arenas hosting games without fans. California Gov. Gavin Newsom included fan-less games in Phase 3 of his plan to re-open California and said last week that the state might be no more than a month away from getting there. But unless San Jose meets the league’s reported criteria, that would entail playing elsewhere.
If the NHL determines the season will resume with the start of the playoffs, it’s difficult to envision a format in which Karlsson -- who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken thumb in February -- isn't watching from home. The defenseman said that, ultimately, teams in playoff contention should be considered first and foremost.
“But then again, it's the big picture, too,” he continued. “You've gotta think about the guys and the teams that are in a position to possibly win something, and you feel for those guys. It's tough to say, because the situation is obviously unique and there's not very many answers out there to what's going to happen in the near future."