As I’m writing this, fans draped in dusted-off hockey sweaters are flooding into arenas all over North America. The best skaters in the world are in dressing rooms, lacing up their skates and donning pads that by now should be reeking. Ice painted in blue and red lines, circles and faceoff dots has been laid where stages normally sit. Boards and glass are now erected where you’d usually find folding chairs for extra concert seating.
The NHL is back, and not a second too soon.
There are 13 games scheduled today, and although the Sharks aren’t on the billing there’s still plenty reason to watch. NBC will kick off the NHL season with the Chicago Blackhawks visiting the Los Angeles Kings at 12 and the New York Rangers at the Boston Bruins on NHL Netwoork at 4. I’ll be getting my fix, if for no other reason than it’s been far too long since I’ve seen a little hockey action, yo!
The big game around the Bay Area is Sunday, when the Sharks invade Calgary to take on the Flames. The puck will drop at 3 pm (rather inconveniently for 49ers fans), signaling the gun on the Sharks’ 48-game sprint for the playoffs. We held a comprehensive round table with Brodie Brazil, Kevin Kurz and Derek T of Fear the Fin discussing the lockout, some hot seats and the Sharks’ competition this year. That was a week ago though, and training camp has quickly given way to the season opener. Where do the Sharks stand?
Trouble on the blue line
The boys warned of some lingering injury issues and some of those haven’t necessarily gotten better. Brent Burns is the most significant case: the defenseman underwent sports hernia/groin surgery during the offseason and he’s still recovering, considering he never took the ice during training camp. Head coach Todd McLellan had this to say about Burns’ recovery yesterday:
McLellan: “I don’t have an idea on timeline. I really don’t. Obviously, the sooner the better. I think we’ll see him start skating quite quickly, and then we’ve just got to get him up to speed. It will be a day-to-day thing for awhile.”
Q: So you’re not saying in your head ‘I don’t have him for the next three weeks?’ You haven’t reached that kind of conclusion?
McLellan: “No, I haven’t reached that conclusion. I know I didn’t have him today and I know we don’t have him tomorrow. That I know. He likely won’t play in game one, but we’ll see what happens in game two and on.”
Q: What can you tell us about the injury itself?
Jason Demers is another blueliner the Sharks will be without when they face the Flames tomorrow. Demers broke his wrist in a Spengler Cup game on New Years Eve and he’ll open the season on injured reserve. Then there’s Justin Braun, who broke his hamate bone playing in Finland in December. While Bay Area folks certainly know how serious hamate injuries can be, Braun has recovered quickly. He’s been skating on the third defensive pairing with Douglas Murray all week and while nothing is official, indications are he will play.
23 players will be available to the Sharks on opening night and it’s a mixture of the usual suspects, some returning youngsters and a couple new faces:
Forwards: Adam Burish, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, Andrew Desjardins, TJ Galiardi, Michal Handzus, Marty Havlat, Patrick Marleau, Frazer McLaren, Joe Pavelski, James Sheppard, Joe Thornton, Tommy Wingels
Defense: Dan Boyle, Justin Braun, Matt Irwin, Douglas Murray, Nick Petrecki, Brad Stuart, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns
In goal: Thomas Greiss, Antti Niemi
Injured reserve: Jason Demers
James Sheppard will look to try and stick with the team after having a nice 2012 in the AHL, with eight goals, 15 assists and a 13.6 shooting percentage in 34 games. Frazer McLaren will likely skate on the fourth line with Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish, and while he may not be putting the puck in the net with regularity, he could provide the team with some much needed enforcement. Matt Irwin and Nick Petrecki will fill in for Demers and Burns while they recover.
Could Gomez become a Shark?
Former Montreal Canadiens center/suddenly unrestricted free agent Scott Gomez is meeting with McLellan and Doug Wilson in San Jose today, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN. A 33-year-old center, Gomez hit the free agent market after an accelerated buyout by the Canadiens earlier this week. Five teams were initially reported to have expressed interest, but the Sharks have emerged as a front runner with a one-year, $700K deal on the table, according to Bruce Garrioch. The key connection in this relationship is assistant Larry Robinson, who was coaching the Devils when Gomez won a Calder trophy with them in 2000.
Gomez would become a nice addition to one of the Sharks’ bottom two lines if he signs. The third and fourth lines have always been good for energy but they’ve lacked in consistent scoring for seasons now. He’s a playmaker, collecting 517 assists in 12 seasons (including 2011-12 when he only played 38 games because of injuries). The public perception of Gomez may be hindered by the Rangers vastly overpaying for him in 2007, but at $700k, possibly prorated, the Sharks may end up with a fantastic value.
His addition doesn’t necessarily mean a third line with Gomez would become a goal-scoring machine; after all, he can’t be expected to score too many of them after notoriously falling short of that career expectation. Still, he would be an upgrade from Michal Handzus, who would likely move to the fourth line and possibly send McLaren back to Worcester if this becomes official.
Here’s the latest from Bret Hedican:
According to Brodie Brazil, the Sharks’ plane takes off at 1 PM today, but if Gomez stays behind and makes a deal, he can still fly in late. The Sharks would have to make a corresponding roster move to make room for Gomez, but nothing would stop him from playing against the Flames tomorrow.