Sharks prep for fast-paced season
Joe Thornton’s face is already in midseason form.
The San Jose Sharks captain took a dozen stitches after a teammate on his Swiss league team clipped him with a stick in practice. The wounds below his left eye may not be very noticeable when the NHL begins its lockout-shortened 48-game season next weekend.
Thornton told FOXSports.com that the scar left by the league’s most recent work stoppage — which officially came to an end on Saturday — will fade almost as quickly.
“We went through it before,” said Thornton at the team’s training facility. “That’s why I went overseas. I thought there might not be a season. It would have really been too bad if we lost this season.
“We know everybody is upset with what went down. Our fans in San Jose are passionate. I expect them to be just as good they have been in the years I’ve been here.”
Training camps open on Sunday, a day after the NHL players followed the owners in ratifying the new collective bargaining agreement. (A memorandum of understanding was signed Saturday night to officially end the lockout.) Players will undergo physicals and then quickly attempt to get NHL-ready in a week’s time.
The season opens for most teams on Saturday with the rest following the next day.
The prevailing feeling is that teams like the Sharks — a squad with little turnover from a season ago — have an edge due to the shortened camp and condensed schedule, which is short on off days and will see no games played between the two conferences until the Stanley Cup Final.
“There’s a lot of continuity when it comes to systems and players,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “A year ago, we had about nine or 10 new players. I’m not sure that would have been conducive to a good start.”
San Jose has made only two significant personnel moves: signing free agents defenseman Brad Stuart and center Adam Burish.
“That question will be answered fairly quickly,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said on the question if teams with stable rosters will have the edge. “I like the fact that we have some familiarity within the organization among our core players.”
The biggest change for the Sharks — an organization that that has been longer on expectations than results the last few seasons — was in the coaching staff. The Sharks brought in Hall of Fame defenseman and former New Jersey Devils coach Larry Robinson and former NHL defenseman and Washington Capitals assistant coach Jim Johnson.
“They are tapping into each other and challenging each other,” Wilson said. “It’s arguably the best staff we’ve ever had.”
As the lockout dragged on, there were times it looked like McLellan and his staff wouldn’t get a chance at improving a team that was bounced in the first round last season. The Los Angeles Kings, a division rival that finished behind the Sharks in the standings, went on to win their first Stanley Cup.
“It came down to the wire,” Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said of the threat of another dark season. “I was a little nervous.”
Ten Sharks players skated in Europe, although to varying degrees. Thornton played the most games (30) and others played only a handful. Defenseman Dan Boyle organized a regular skate in San Jose for players who didn’t head overseas.
McLellan has been able to see and interact some with the players as they returned over the last several days, although he won’t be allowed to coach them until Sunday. So far, he said the players looked like they kept themselves hockey-ready.
“The players knew from Day 1 that they were the only ones responsible for their health when they got back here,” McLellan said. “The last time we saw them, everybody was healthy, everybody was fit. I expect when we get everybody in camp, we’ll be good.”
Durability and fitness will be factors for all 30 teams. The Sharks, for example, play seven sets of back-to-back games.
Maybe brutal at times, there is an upside.
“I think you are going to see some intense hockey,” Clowe said. “You are going to have coaches stressing everybody out by emphasizing how important a good start is. I know guys are going to take a while to get their legs back. But after a few games, I think the pace will be high.”