A long holiday break sounds like a good thing. But the San Jose Sharks would have preferred to skip this respite.
Due to the NHL’s pause in its schedule related to the spread of the Omicron variant, the Sharks will go 12 days between games if their game against Arizona goes off as scheduled on Tuesday, Dec 28. San Jose was in the midst of a tough seven-game home stand when play was halted, and have since been hit with injuries, COVID-19 issues and were already without their general manager.
Here’s what the Sharks are dealing with, and what you might see when they resume play.
Three Sharks in COVID Protocol
With as much as 15 percent of the players in the NHL on the bench due to coronavirus, every team has had to deal with the issue and defenseman Brent Burns and forwards Jonathan Dahlen and Tomas Hertl are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Burns is on the list retroactive to Dec. 17, while Dahlen and Hertl were added Dec. 21. The Barracuda of the American Hockey League (AHL) has also lost players to protocol, with forwards Evander Kane, Jasper Weatherby and defenseman Nick Cecik joining the list on Dec. 22. Weatherby just moved from the Sharks roster to the Barracuda a few days ago in what was possibly a salary cap move.
The Sharks are one of three NHL franchises who play all or some of its games in the same arena as its AHL counterpart. The teams have separate locker rooms and equipment, and are most often not at the arena at the same time. But they do occupy the same arena and move players quickly from one roster to the other, so there is a chance of cross-contamination.
The biggest issue facing the Sharks is getting the players back on the active roster. According to current league mandates, if a player is asymptomatic, he can test out of protocol with consecutive negative tests 24 hours apart. If he is symptomatic, he will be required to quarantine for 10 days.
Burns, 36, should be ready to go against the Ducks on Tuesday. It was reported on several news sites, including fearthefin.com, that he is asymptomatic. The status of Dahlen and Cecik is less clear, but Dahlen was in the protocol before and achieved an early exit. He went on the list on Oct. 30 and only missed one game.
Things are in flux, but it’s far from the worst situation the Sharks have faced due to the pandemic. Earlier this season San Jose had nine players in protocol and managed to stay competitive.
Lebanc Suffers Shoulder Injury
Unfortunately for Kevin Lebanc, a negative test will not get him back on the ice anything soon.
The 26-year-old right winger will be out for the next three months due to scheduled shoulder surgery. He dislocated his shoulder in the first period against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 11 after being hit awkwardly into the boards.
It’s a frustrating turn for Lebanc, who has struggled from time to time this season. Before the injury, he had six points and three goals through 21 games and was sent to the fourth line just prior to his injury. But this is another hit to the depth of the squad, and Lebanc is a solid vet who knows the system.
The Sharks brought up Jayden Halbgewachs to fill Lebanc’s roster spot.
Establishing Home Ice Advantage
When one looked at the Sharks’ schedule before this season, there was a stretch in December which appeared to be a holiday gift. Right before the New Year, the Sharks could settle in at the SAP Center for a seven-game home streak.
For a team currently sitting on the playoff bubble, it was an excellent opportunity to celebrate the end of 2021 with a nice pile of points. But the Sharks were inconsistent, going 2-3 on the home stand before the final two games were canceled by the NHL due to the Omicron variant. The loss on Dec. 16 to the Vancouver Canucks stings in particular since they are behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division.
This has certainly been a chaotic season for San Jose, who showed what they are capable of by winning the first four games for the season. The injuries and COVID interruptions hurt, and they have been operating without the presence of their long-time general manager Doug Wilson, who has been on a medical leave of absence since late November.
They have had to sit around and stew on the bad news, so the best thing for the Sharks is to get back to playing. Their game on Monday at Anaheim has already been postponed, so the Sharks hope to finish the year with home wins against Arizona and Philadelphia (Dec. 30).
A few wins, especially in front of the Shark Tank faithful, could solve much of their issues.
Scott Linesburgh has been a sports writer for 35 years, and has spent more than 15 years as a pro hockey beat writer. He has covered some of the biggest sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Indianapolis 500. A native of Long Island, N.Y. who grew up as an Islander fan, Scott cover the San Jose Sharks for THW, and is always looking for the stories beyond the box scores.