Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a Cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We continue with the upcoming CBA negotiations that could result in a potential lockout.

The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021-22 season, meaning there's no need to worry about any sort of lockout occurring before then, right?


Yes, the CBA expires after the 2021-22 season, but both the league and the NHL Players' Association have options to opt-out of it next month, just as teams are convening for the start of training camp. Even if neither side chooses to do so at that time, there is plenty of reason to believe the NHL could experience its fourth work stoppage under commissioner Gary Bettman at some point in the near future.

And, if that indeed does occur, one could make the case there are few teams that would be more negatively impacted than the Sharks.

San Jose has done an incredible job of prolonging its championship window -- more times than once. The Sharks only have missed the playoffs twice since 1998, reaching the Western Conference final five times in that span. The most recent of those trips came just this past season when San Jose was eliminated in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.

The developments of the offseason have done nothing to remove the Sharks from the list of legitimate contenders.

But, all good things must come to an end, and that window -- at some point -- eventually will close. The fact of the matter is, while general manager Doug Wilson has replenished the roster with several quality young players, the ones that have formed the backbone of so many of those playoff runs are getting long in the tooth.

Joe Pavelski is gone. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture will turn 35, 33 and 31 years old, respectively, this coming March. Erik Karlsson, who signed an eight-year contract at the start of the offseason, turns 30 in May. Surefire Hall of Famer Joe Thornton is 40, and while he's currently unsigned, you can count on seeing him in teal for at least one more season. 

All of this is to say, the Sharks can't afford to waste any time. They've come close -- very close -- to winning it all multiple times, but last year's team might have been the most talented in franchise history, and still it fell short. One naturally would assume that if San Jose is going to end its lengthy Stanley Cup drought, it will occur while some or most of that talented and decorated core still is intact.

Any sort of work stoppage -- for however long -- would therefore rapidly increase the speed with which that window closes.

Now, there is optimism that the two sides will be able to avoid any such lockout, but there are a few contentious issues that will be at the heart of the negotiations, most notably the percentage of player contracts held in escrow, and the feasibility of NHL players participating in the Winter Olympics mid-season. Given how certain star players have set up their contracts for the 2020-21 season, it's clear that optimism isn't shared by all.

[RELATED: Why 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is threat to Sharks' cup hopes]

For instance, $12 million of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid's $13 million 2020-21 contract is in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in July. Similarly, Toronto's John Tavares will make more than $11 million of his $12 million 2020-21 salary in the form of a lump sum, thereby ensuring he'll receive the vast majority of his salary whether there's a lockout in 2020 or 2022, or not at all.

The most recent NHL lockout reduced the 2012-13 season to 48 games. The one before that eliminated the 2004-05 season altogether. If the next one occurs anytime soon, it will steal time from the Sharks that they simply don't have.

Sharks’ Evander Kane explains his favorite way to score an NHL goal

Sharks’ Evander Kane explains his favorite way to score an NHL goal

No two goals in the NHL are exactly identical.

With the creativity of players and formations throughout the hockey world, just about every finish comes in a unique way.

For Sharks winger Evander Kane, he prefers when they come on a fast break.

“My favorite way to score a goal is probably on a two-on-one,” Kane told NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “Coming down the left side and just snapping one up high, and beating the goalie clean.

“It’s kind of like a mini-breakaway, and it’s mano a mano, and there’s nothing more satisfying than beating a goalie clean.”

[RELATED: Couture hopes Jumbo returns to Sharks after virus outbreak]

That does sound familiar.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it remains unclear if the Sharks will wrap up the final 12 games of the 2019-20 season, but at least Kane’s given us plenty of highlights to watch while we wait.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, isolating in Tahoe, reflects on Sharks' season

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, isolating in Tahoe, reflects on Sharks' season

Of all the places to possibly isolate themselves, the Vlasic family chose wisely.

“We were going to take vacation time in Tahoe at the end of the year, and thought, might as well do it now,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic told NBC Sports California on Friday. 

Marc-Edouard, his wife Martine and their three dogs were quick to head towards the Sierras as soon as they got word from the Sharks that players were free to leave San Jose.

“There is quite a bit of snow,” Vlasic said. “[This] week is supposed to be very warm. When we first arrived there was a huge snowstorm, with road closures. So you get a little of everything, which is nice.”

The sights and sounds of Tahoe are the perfect place to put a rough hockey season in the past.

“Whatever it was, as a team we just couldn’t get going,” Vlasic said. “When you fall behind like we did, it’s hard to catch up. Yeah, in the second month of the season we went 11-3, but we couldn’t keep it going.”

Frustrating, yes. But not worth dwelling over for very long for Vlasic. In fact, maybe the Sharks' struggles of 70 games this past season will spark something next time around.

“I’ll look back on the season of 14-15 [missed the playoffs], and then the next year 15-16, we go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final,” Vlasic said. “If you look at that, and build off that experience. The guys came in the following year with something to prove.”

Until then, Vlasic, like most human adults on Earth will try to weather the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

[RELATED: Vlasic, dogs go snow sledding]

“I realized communities were panicking when I went to the grocery store,” Vlasic said. “People were just ripping stuff off the shelf that, in two weeks would be there anyways.” 

Interpreting the situation, and his own instincts like so many other NHL players, Vlasic has decided to forego physical training until there’s any clarity of hockey resuming.

“Yes, I shut down the body,” Vlasic said. “I have no gym here. No bike. I go outside and walk the dogs, do some body weight stuff, but nothing like I would if I was in San Jose at the rink.”