San Jose Sharks Could Be Hurt By NHL’s New Reported Time Frame To Start Season

The Mercury News

The San Jose Sharks may not be getting much time as they would like for training camp — wherever that may be — to prepare for the start of the 2020-2021 NHL season. Multiple reports indicate the league and the NHL Players’ Association are now targeting a Jan. 13 start to what would be a 56-game regular season. That could be preceded by a 10-day training camp with no exhibition games, according to TSN, although discussions between the league and the union are ongoing. TSN’s report also indicated that the seven non-playoff teams that were not part of the NHL’s Return to Play plan this summer, including the Sharks, would only get a short head start to training camp.

Those teams had sought at least an extra week to prepare for the 2020-2021 season considering they had not been allowed to skate together in large groups since March. Now, though, they may only get a few extra days, with players reporting on a voluntary basis on or around Dec. 28.

All of these dates could change with coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths reaching record levels throughout many parts of North America. In California alone Monday, county health departments around the state combined to report 34,136 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, shattering a previous single-day record.

Still, the reported time frame wouldn’t give new full-time coach Bob Boughner, associate coach Rocky Thompson and assistant John Madden a ton of time on the ice to put their stamp on the Sharks. Last year, training camps lasted more than two weeks and the Sharks had six exhibition games.

Boughner has talked about implementing new systems that are tailored to his personnel. Thompson, in particular, has several ideas to rejuvenate the Sharks’ power play, which finished 23rd in the NHL last season.

There also figures to be competition for certain jobs at camp, including third and fourth line center roles and the sixth defenseman spot, among others.

That’s a lot to cram into 10 to 14 days.

‘There will be changes in our system play,” Boughner said Sept. 22 when he was officially hired as the Sharks full-time coach. “In all three zones, there’s going to be some changes. We have to find and I believe we have found the style of play that we want.”

Boughner and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson have also spoken about the importance of getting off to a good start this season. The Sharks started 4-10-1 last year and finished with the third-worst record in the league at 29-36-5. In 2018-19, the Sharks were 12-10-5 before they rallied over the final two-thirds of the season to finish second in the Pacific Division.

“The last couple of years, we did not start the way we needed to start,” Wilson said in October. “We were chasing our tail in both those years.”

Before any of that happens, the league and the NHLPA still have several issues to sort out, including finalizing COVID-19 protocols, the regular-season schedule, opt-out provisions for players and roster sizes.

Realignment also has to be finalized by the NHL. With the northern border still closed to non-essential travel, an all-Canadian division appears likely, which would potentially put the Sharks in the same division as Western Conference powers Colorado and Dallas, along with Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vegas and Arizona. and another team such as Minnesota.

If Santa Clara County’s physical contact ban remains in effect beyond Dec. 21, as county executive Dr. Jeff Smith predicts, and the NHL starts the regular season Jan. 13, the Sharks will likely have to move their training camp outside of San Jose.

Possible destinations for the Sharks include Las Vegas and Arizona. The San Jose State football team is in Las Vegas right now and will play Nevada on Friday at Sam Boyd Stadium. The 49ers have temporarily moved operations to Glendale, Arizona, and are scheduled to play one more home game — this Sunday vs. Washington — at State Farm Stadium.

The Sharks are not the only NHL team in that situation, as both the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens are also facing strict orders by their local health departments and may have to make alternate plans for training camp.

One issue that is settled is the financial one. Per TSN and Sportsnet, the league and the union are no longer haggling over money and will stick with the Memorandum of Understanding agreement — finalized this summer — that sees players defer 10% of their salary for this upcoming season and caps escrow at 20 percent.

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©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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