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Will we ever see the Sharks play again?
The clock is ticking
1/13/05 - By Paul Krill

Get out your shoe leather, Novocain, or whatever you have to deaden the pain, folks. I'm going to ponder a painful question that I have no inside information on, but will speculate on anyway. Might the San Jose Sharks be done for good, or is this just foolish banter on my part? I certainly hope it's the latter. But let's examine the situation here.

If owners cannot get their "cost certainty" and are again forced to lose money to stay competitive on the ice, owners throughout the league might just throw their hands up in the air and turn their franchises back into the league. The NHL would then have a hard time selling these guaranteed-to-lose-millions-annually outfits. Remember - Disney has been trying to sell the Mighty Ducks for years, with no takers. The Predators were said to be up for sale at a bargain-basement price. Other stories of NHL teams not exactly being sought-after commodities also can be found.

Now, let's look at the Sharks. We're always hearing that the Sharks lose money, for starters. Isolated in the Bay Area with no other teams within hundreds of miles, they have one of the worst travel schedules in the league. This makes travel expensive for both the Sharks and visiting teams coming to San Jose, and players undoubtedly don't relish the extra time on planes. (The Sharks and visiting teams also must deal with the pesky local airport curfew, so that airport neighbors - like myself - don't have our sleep disturbed by these millionaires flying in and out late at night). With dreams of a big TV deal in shambles, does the NHL really need the Bay Area for the league's so-called "TV footprint"?

Even The Hockey News magazine is predicting that the NHL in 10 years will be primarily limited to markets in Canada, the Midwest and Northeast. San Jose, California, is not exactly in the mix here.

With all these factors in mind, I'm concerned that if the current mess does not get resolved soon enough and teams start dying out, the Sharks might wind up on that endangered species list.

We do have the owners throughout the league vowing to stay out as long as it takes to get "cost certainty." Players, at least a few who speak on the record, in turn say they'll stay out for years to avoid cost certainty.

Most likely, the Sharks will play again in San Jose, some day. Who is on the ice by then remains to be seen. Leaguewide, some third- and fourth-liners from last season may already have played their last NHL game and earned their last fat NHL paycheck. Fresher, higher-skilled youngsters are waiting in the wings to take their spots away when play resumes.

I'm still getting nice emails and the like from the Sharks. They just sent me a nice pen and a key ring, and let me skate around the arena ice with coaches Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler and other season ticket holders. The organization always has been open in noting that the current deadlock might last a long time.

But I, for one, will not take for granted that future Sharks games are a given.

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