There are differences between this 48-game season and the last time the NHL went this route after a prolonged labor dispute.
Full training camps had already been completed when players were locked out just before the 1994-95 season was put on hold. Fewer players competed in Europe until things got straightened out.
But those who played that season, including Sharks assistant coach Jim Johnson and radio analyst Jamie Baker, say one thing should be the same once the first puck drops. With only 48 games to determine playoff positioning, the intensity gets ratcheted up a notch or two.
"As a player, you love it," Baker said. "Even though the season is shorter, it's more grueling. You can't pace yourself. You can't hold back. You have to win today. You can never get comfortable."
Added Johnson: "The intensity, the excitement of the players to come back, I really felt it was a sprint to the finish -- almost a playoff race right from the get-go."
Johnson, who joined coach Todd McLellan's staff over the summer, was a 32-year-old defenseman with the Washington Capitals in 1995. Baker was a 28-year-old forward with the Sharks whose Game 7 goal had eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the playoffs just nine months earlier.
Both their teams made the playoffs at the end of the 1995 season -- Washington being eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the first round, San Jose winning its Game 7 against Calgary
before being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.
Looking ahead, both say that a strong start is key if the Sharks want to be among those teams well-positioned to battle for the Stanley Cup.
"I recall the teams, the first 10 to 20 games of the season, if you weren't in a good spot then, very few teams were in a good spot at the end," Johnson said. "That's how important a good start is."
Another change in the game since 1995 makes that good start even more important now, said Baker, noting that the one point that teams now earn in overtime or shootout losses makes it even more difficult to make up lost ground.
"You can be in second or third place, lose three or four games in the span of a week and drop to 14th because it's going to be that tight and congested because of the three-point games," the Sharks analyst said.
Johnson said the fact some players spent the lockout in Europe does change the dynamic from the one 18 years ago.
"You don't know how that's going to positively affect you," said Johnson, who spent his first lockout skating and training with other players in his home state of Minnesota. "Are they going to be better to start the season? I think they will be. Could they get tired towards the end? They might."
In addition, he added, "you've got to deal with some guys who come back with injuries. I don't recall in '94-95 we had a lot of injuries."
Health issues are the one thing that the other new member of McLellan's staff, associate coach Larry Robinson, remembers most from that first lockout season, one he spent as an assistant behind the New Jersey bench.
"It's going to be as much attrition as anything else," said Robinson, whose team won the Stanley Cup that year. "The more guys you can have healthy and keep healthy, the better your chances are."
It didn't take long for the new faces on the Sharks' current coaching staff to share their insights on the need for increased intensity and a strong start with their players.
"It was one of the first things the coaching staff mentioned to us when we got together as a team for the first time," Logan Couture said. "But just quick. Everyone is smart enough to realize that."
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