Sharks

How the CBA could derail Erik Karlsson's future on the Sharks

How the CBA could derail Erik Karlsson's future on the Sharks

A little-commented-upon feature of the Erik Karlsson trade that has made the San Jose Sharks a legitimate Stanley Cup frontrunner and general manager Doug Wilson the designated genius of the day is that it might really be a win-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace move.
 
And the reason is that no good deed ever stays good.
 
The Sharks, like the other 30 National Hockey League teams, are mindful and preparing for a potential player opt-out of the current collective bargaining agreement, which can be renewed and extended to 2021-22. Both owners and players must agree to do so, though, and if either side chooses to opt out of the current agrrement, the players can exercise their option to terminate the deal. Given the way the owners worked the players in the last deal, the players are looking for redress, especially on escrow and Olympic participation.
 
Escrow is the amount of money withdrawn from every player’s paycheck and then redistributed to ensure a 50/50 split of revenues. Last year 11.5 per cent was withheld, meaning that players collected 88.5 per cent of their published salaries, and with only a small portion likely to be refunded once the dollars are balanced. 
 
The Olympics was the other sticking point. The owners decided not to schedule an Olympic gap in their schedule, effectively preventing player participation in the last winter games in PyeongChang, South Korea. They then decided to leverage permission to play against extending the owner-friendly CBA, which sat poorly with players.
 
There is some speculation that owners might also want to impose term and bonus limits, especially since the Los Angeles Kings just dropped an eight-year, $88 million contract on defenseman Drew Doughty, and more spectacularly the Edmonton Oilers tied down Connor McDavid, the new face of the sport, got eight years and $100M (figures courtesy CapFriendly.com). The bonus limits are immediately problematic because according to Frank Seravalli of TSN.ca, 78 players will collect $252 million in 2021 to alleviate the loss of pay in case of a lockout/walkout, a clear indication that players are at best guarded about agreement.
 
Put simply, the players and owners are steeling for a protracted fight, and the Sharks acknowledging that their time to win a Stanley Cup is immediate means a work stoppage does significant damage to that plan.
 
Owner Hasso Plattner, who was considered a conciliator in the last round of negotiations, now has a more pressing on-ice motivation to want the doors kept open. The Sharks stopped being an automatic sellout a few years ago, and the Karlsson acquisition presumably would in time gin up television ratings and visibility as well. The Sharks have never been a hotter item conceptually in their history, and to lose that over an early CBA termination would make 2018-19 an all-or-nothing proposition in a very real legal and economic sense.
 
Urgency can be a great motivator, but motivation alone does not win a Stanley Cup. Good seasons from good players, good health to good players, good matchups and good luck all conspire to make or break Cup runs, and the Sharks have had all those items in their cart only once in team history. If a work stoppage looks likely, there may not be a second crack for this team if the first goes awry.
 
But if you need the silver lining here, at least they’re in a position to have a CBA screw them. There are lots of teams in the current amalgamation that haven’t any such aspirations at all.

What Sharks still can accomplish as unfortunate season comes to close

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What Sharks still can accomplish as unfortunate season comes to close

The Sharks have just 18 games left in a season where the Stanley Cup playoffs still are mathematically possible -- but not realistic.
 
It’s been an uncharacteristic journey by franchise standards, one that now demands a pressing question: What can the Sharks accomplish during the rest of the season?

Healthy finish for Couture

In his second game back from injury, Logan Couture netted the game-winning goal Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. He did this despite not having officially practiced with the Sharks since Jan. 7th when he broke a bone in his foot. The captain's quick return should not diminish the fact that his season had to be completely paused and re-started from scratch.

With Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson shelved for the rest of the season, it remains important for Couture to finish the current schedule healthy and get his timing back without any limitations entering the summer and next season.

Get Jones' groove back

We could be witnessing the start of a strong finish for Martin Jones, who only has allowed seven goals in his last four starts. Two of those still resulted in losses, but that shouldn't discount his encouraging play.

This is not to suggest his struggles this season will be entirely erased, but sustained success through March would be a positive for Jones and the Sharks.

Jones and Aaron Dell are expected to continue alternating starts for the rest of the way, which would give Jones ample opportunity to continue distancing himself from the glooms of October and December. Before the current stretch, Jones only started three of the Sharks’ first 16 games in 2020.

Can young players emerge?

A theme entering this season was the expectation that the next wave of young players would make their mark at the NHL level.

Outside of Mario Ferraro -- and Dylan Gambrell to a degree -- it didn’t really pan out that way. The Sharks' desire to construct a turnaround by January only exacerbated the situation.

But now that the trade deadline has passed, even more nightly spots in the lineup have opened up. You can expect to see players like Alexander True, Jacob Middleton, and Noah Gregor get the full benefit of regular opportunity from here on out.

At the worst, it’s a great experience that they’re ready for. But the best-case scenario would be to have some built-in optimism and confidence surrounding one or some of the young commodities entering next season.

Avoid struggle stretches

I'm stating the obvious, but sustained losing streaks near the end of any season don’t usually bring any positive vibes or moral victories. This hockey season has been a complete struggle in San Jose, but avoiding a salty ending only can benefit the group that will carry over into next season. Losses are unavoidable, but staying away from long skids will be critical.

[RELATED: Why Couture has 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' as his song]

Spoiler

While there aren’t going to be extra hockey games in San Jose this spring, it almost is guaranteed there will be a few occasions in the final weeks where the Sharks can help derail an opponent’s postseason plans.

Nothing truly can replicate Stanley Cup playoff games, but putting this group through some simulated high-stakes situations is the next best thing.

Logan Couture reflects on difficult first season as Sharks' captain

Logan Couture reflects on difficult first season as Sharks' captain

SAN JOSE -- Logan Couture could sense the Sharks needed a boost. Whether he could provide one was another matter. The team’s captain hadn’t played or practiced in seven weeks while rehabilitating a fractured ankle that might’ve still been unfit for duty during a dark time.

Couture knew that, even after a fired head coach and several serious injuries to star players, Tuesday was another low. General manager Doug Wilson traded Patrick Marleau, Brenden Dillion and Barclay Goodrow leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. Joe Thornton expressed interest in being moved and initial disappointment staying put.

Oh, and the Sharks had lost four straight on an extended road trip set to end that night in Philadelphia. Couture wasn’t sure if he was ready heading into game day and could’ve been forgiven for extending his absence to increase odds of returning in fine form. After all, the man hadn’t even practiced yet. He suited up and played the Flyers anyway.

Coming back in times of need is nothing new. Let’s not forget Couture’s the guy who played with two facial fractures and wiring to keep his teeth in place. That was the 2016-17 playoffs.

He still came rushing back, even with this season already dead and buried.

“It was an emotional 24 hours seeing a lot of friends leave the team,” Couture told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday morning. “Honestly, it really was difficult. We understood the circumstances, [that the Sharks would be sellers at the deadline], but we were still a fragile group that day after losing guys. I figured I should go out be with the team.

"I wish I could’ve been better, but I did the best I could.”

Couture’s form wasn’t great in a loss to the Flyers, but his presence gave the Sharks a lift.

“It was an important time for him to get back into the lineup for a couple reasons,” Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said. “First of all, it was good for him to get that first game over with. Also, with the situation that surrounded us on the road trip with the rumors and the trade deadline.

"After losing some good people it was important to see our leader come back into the lineup.”

Couture’s initial return brought positivity to a downtrodden group. His next appearance did even more. His overtime goal beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 Thursday night and kickstarted a prolonged homestand where the Sharks hope to rebound despite losing so much talent to injury or trades.

“He played a ton of minutes, top-line minutes, on the penalty kill and power play,” Boughner said after a big win. “He did faceoffs when we need him and then hit the game-winner. That’s what those kinds of guys do. Logan leads by example.”

That’s his focus now that the Sharks seem set on playing young, fresh faces now seeing significant ice time as the organization plans for the future.

That doesn’t happen much in these parts. The team’s first-round pick way back in 2007 has missed the playoffs just once in 10 previous seasons. The second time’s coming this spring, in Couture’s first year as captain following an injury-impacted, subpar campaign by his own lofty standards.

Couture has taken that inevitability hard, looking inward first while trying to figure out what went wrong with the team and how to fix it.

“It has been difficult, and I’ve had a lot of learning experiences,” Couture said. “I think I could do several things better. I just don’t think I’ve done enough this year. I look at myself first and wish things were different.”

[RELATED: Why Couture has 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' as goal song]

This major ankle injury and the surgery to repair it was the hardest to handle. It wasn’t rehab or the pain involved that bothered him. Couture hated watching his team struggle without being able to help or lead from the ice as he’s accustomed.

“It has been a tough year from a team standpoint and from a personal standpoint,” Couture said. “It has been difficult with me being injured and not traveling the last couple months until this last road trip. I have been away from these guys and that’s never fun. When you’re away from the team you almost don’t feel like you’re a part of the group.

"I think a lot of the leaders around here did a great job and carried a message to the young guys to work hard and show they deserve to be here.”

Couture’s primary focus is helping get guys in the locker room ready for the next game. He is, however, keeping an eye on the big picture. That makes sense considering he’s going to be around a while, working under a $64 million contract with a modified no-trade clause that runs through the 2026-27 season.

He’s a respected locker room leader who runs a leadership-by-committee outfit to lean on experience from an established veteran core. Those that remain from that group and are healthy have leaned on each other during a trying period they hope will be remembered as a speed bump on a run of sustained success.

“It has really been tough. There’s no softer way to put it,” Couture said. “This experience has been very, very difficult. Experiencing adversity like this, it’s all about how to react to it.

“… Our goal right now is pretty simple. We want to play as hard as we possibly can during the games we have left. We’re not going to make the playoffs, but we can finish the year strong as a team and as individuals. That’s what you want. That’s what we need. You don’t want to head into the summer regretting how you finished. You want to give everything you can.

"It will be weird not playing in April, but hopefully we learn and get better after everything we’ve been through.”