The NHL is back?
Earlier this evening, the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on plans for the 2020-21 season.
The league wants training camp to open on January 3rd and the regular season on January 13th. The seven teams that missed the playoffs, including the San Jose Sharks, can open camp on December 30th.
But there’s still a lot up in the air, chiefly:
Canadian NHL team issue over health protocols with provinces still not resolved, per source. But hope is to resolve it by Monday.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 19, 2020
The safest thing to say, because of COVID-19 surges throughout the United States and Canada, is all these aforementioned dates shouldn’t be considered set in stone.
The NHL-NHLPA agreement also allows for a four to six-player taxi squad to be added on top of the regular 23-man roster.
Players will also have the option to opt out of the 2020-21 campaign.
So what does this all mean to the San Jose Sharks?
We’ll try to answer the key questions, best we can.
Where Will Sharks Hold Training Camp?
San Jose Hockey Now confirmed yesterday that Santa Clara County has banned contact sports until January 8th. This includes the San Jose Sharks and their practice facility Solar4America Ice at San Jose.
Both Kevin Kurz of The Athletic and Frank Seravalli of TSN have reported that the Sharks will open camp around Phoenix. That’s yet to be officially announced, but it’s a safe bet, considering Arizona’s more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
Who’s Going to Camp?
Last year, the San Jose Sharks opened training camp with 63 players.
SJHN has heard — expect a lot less this time around. There’s no sense in having larger-than-necessary gatherings.
Just guessing, but 35-40 invites make sense as the Sharks work their way to a maximum 29. The seven non-playoff teams will also have just two weeks to select their roster as opposed to the customary month.
Where Will Sharks Play Home Games?
Will the San Jose Sharks get to play in San Jose this year?
Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now has learned:
NHL remains hopeful San Jose Sharks can play home games at SAP Center this season, but “it’s not the current plan” @ColHockeyNow
— Adrian Dater (@adater) December 19, 2020
Does this mean the Sharks will play their entire 30th anniversary on the road?
Not necessarily — you have to imagine, as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, that the County of Santa Clara will relax restrictions.
But how long will the Sharks be away from San Jose?
“You’ll have to ask them,” a highly-placed NHL source said of Santa Clara County.
Now the county’s ban on contact sports ends, as of now, on January 8th. On paper, the Sharks could still make it home by January 13th. But there’s no reason to believe — considering the anticipated post-holiday coronavirus surge — that the county will deviate from its current course of action in three weeks.
Long story short, the San Jose Sharks are almost certainly starting their 30th anniversary season on the road. But where?
Both Gila River Arena and T-Mobile Arena have been floated as serious possibilities. We’ll know more soon.
Who Will Be in San Jose’s Division?
Based on geography, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Vegas, Arizona, and Colorado are assured.
Otherwise, it’s been a game of musical chairs between Dallas, Minnesota, and St. Louis for the division’s two remaining spots, with various reports tying each to the new Pacific.
At the moment?
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) December 19, 2020
Related to this is confirmation from Elliotte Friedman that the top four teams from each division will make the post-season.
For competitive reasons, this isn’t a great draw for the Sharks. Colorado and Vegas are true Cup contenders, while the Blues, even sans Alex Pietrangelo, still feature most of the group that won the 2019 Stanley Cup.
But at least it’s Minnesota instead of 2020 Western Conference champion Dallas, I guess?
This proposed division — and another that featured Dallas instead of St. Louis — appears to be a derby for the fourth-and-last playoff berth after the clear top-three. San Jose should be in the mix, but it’s fair to say they won’t be the favorites for even fourth place.
This looks way more daunting than the regular Pacific Division, featuring Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver instead of Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, or St. Louis.
Of course, the Sharks could still receive that possibly easier draw, if all the Canadian teams are forced to play in the US. In that case, divisions probably revert back to normal.
This is another unknown, like so many things about the plan to pull off a non-bubbled regular season. This NHL/NHLPA agreement is a big step, but just a step on the long road to the 2021 Stanley Cup.
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