fans

So…will the fans come back?

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The damage the lockout has caused to the NHL is obvious, with lost revenue and games at the top of the list.

But what about collateral damage?

The NHL will likely face some blow back from its fans — you know, folks that have endured two work stoppages in the last seven years, one that wiped out an entire season and another that dragged on for 113 days.

Surely, some fans will flock back to their favorite teams as though nothing ever happened.

Almost as surely, some will stay away.

Others will have a tough time deciding how to support a league with a penchant for damaging itself.

With that in mind, here are some key points to consider…

Once bitten, twice shy

Fans returned in droves following the 2004-05 lockout and, by last season, the NHL was posting great attendance figures. An April report from the Sports Business Journal claimed teams averaged 17,445 fans per game last season, up 1.8 percent from last season and 2.8 from two seasons ago.

Those are solid numbers, which lead to a big question:

Will fans come back again?

It remains to be seen how negatively this latest work stoppage affects people’s psyches.

The first lockout was met with anger. This one was also met with anger, but also a considerable amount of apathy — and apathy usually doesn’t translate to people spending their money on your particular brand of entertainment. There’s no shortage of ways to spend disposable income, in case you haven’t noticed.

Social Media

One big difference from the ’04-05 lockout and the ’12-13 one was the impact of Facebook and Twitter — especially the latter. Twitter allowed fans to become much more dialed in to the minutiae of labor negotiations, meaning they probably got too close a look at very wealthy men fighting tooth and nail over how to divvy up $3.3 billion.

There’s also the issue of how players came off via social media. Many took to Twitter to show how life was going during the lockout — lives that included Ferraris, money phones, seamstresses at Barneys and sunny vacation spots. (Translation: life was going just fine, thanks.)

To be fair, many players are now using social media platform to express regret to their fans (see: Andrew Ference’s deeply apologetic tweet, and Ryan Miller apologizing for the role players had in the lockout.)

Halted Momentum

The Kings should’ve been building off their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. While they did sell an “unprecedented” number of season tickets following the Cup victory, it’ll be tough to re-establish a presence in a crowded Los Angeles sports market after being out of the public eye for so long.

In the last few months alone, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup and the Lakers made a series of bold, headline-making personnel decisions. Oh yeah, the Clippers currently have the second-best record in the NBA.

What about Florida? The Panthers enjoyed tremendous success last season, capturing the first Southeast Division banner in franchise history while snapping a 10 year playoff drought.

The team showed noted improvement at the turnstiles — Florida averaged 16,628 in attendance last season, its highest total in seven years — and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games (and two overtimes) in the opening round.

Think the Panthers would’ve liked to have been playing already?

Giving Back

The NHL does have a history with fan incentives out of a work stoppage. One of the key features from the last lockout was a series of rule changes designed to make the game more exciting and attractive, a plan that won over a lot of casual observers.

This time around, the incentives might be a tad different — more of the grassroots, “we’re sorry” kind of stuff.

Example: Panthers president Michael Yormark said he would announce a ticket promotion Monday that would allow fans to sit with him at all home games this season.

Giveaways and promotions like that will help but, ultimately, it’s the sport itself that will win fans back. That’s something Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey recognized shortly after the new CBA was reached.

“Our focus now,” he said, “is to give fans, whether it’s 48 games or 50, the most exciting season we can.”

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.

Martin Jones is still pretty ‘new’ to this

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stands in goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d have to be an awfully harsh critic not to be impressed with what Martin Jones did last season.

He “didn’t flinch” under the pressure of a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer described his efforts as some of the best championship round work of “all-time.”

His signing really made the Sharks look smart. With a strong .919 career save percentage in the regular season and a fantastic .923 playoff save percentage, the 26-year-old has succeeded more or less whenever called upon.

That brings us to the interesting part, though: there’s not a lot of tape, so to speak, on Jones as an NHL goalie.

Small sample

The 2015-16 season was just his third of NHL action, and he’s now at just 99 regular season appearances. That fantastic run of 24 playoff games makes up a significant chunk of his overall experience at the top level.

Jones has excelled when tested, but if you have any concern with him, it’s just that he’s relatively inexperienced at carrying that No. 1 workload.

He started in 65 games during the 2015-16 season, towering over his work as a Kings backup (15 appearances in 2014-15, 19 in 2013-14).

On the bright side, the Sharks have additional evidence that he’s not just a flash in the pan.

Strong numbers at each level

Looking at his AHL stats and even going as far back as his WHL days, his numbers have almost always been good to downright impressive.

It all continues the pattern of Jones looking like the real deal, but next season presents the latest test for the promising goalie.

So far, he’s passed all of them with flying colors.

What will Brent Burns’ new contract look like?

SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 29:  Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at SAP Center on February 29, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Sharks day at PHT…

There’s only one Brent Burns, that much is clear. Both on and off the ice, there’s no one like him.

So, what do you pay a guy that’s always imitated, never duplicated?

That’s the dilemma the San Jose Sharks will be faced with in the coming weeks/months.

If you were impressed with Bruns’ 17 goals and 60 points in 2014-15, then his 27 goals and 75 points in 2015-16 was out of this world.

Over the last three seasons, not many forwards have produced as much as Burns, let alone defensemen.

Since being acquired by San Jose in 2011, Burns has hit double digit goals in all but one year (he scored nine in 30 games in 2012-13).

“You know how we feel about Brent. Phenomenal year,” GM Doug Wilson said back in June. “When we acquired him it was a big piece to acquire. There’s no doubt he’s important to us. We want him. I think he loves being here. Those conversations will take place shortly.”

Time to talk numbers…

It sounds like Burns enjoy playing in San Jose, so him taking a bit of a discount is possible. But if we look at the closest comparable…

Dustin Byfuglien, who is 31-years-old like Burns, signed a five-year $38 million contract with the Jets this winter. That comes out to an AAV of $7.6 million.

Both are big, physically imposing and have put up some great numbers in the last few years.

Over the last three seasons, Byfuglien has scored 19, 18 and 20 goals for a total of 57. Burns has scored 27, 17 and 22 for a total of 66.

That’s not a huge difference over three years, but Byfuglien wasn’t coming off a 27-goal season and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final when he signed his contract.

Although we haven’t really heard much regarding Burns’ contract demands, it wouldn’t be shocking for the final cap number to be in the 8 or 9 million range.

Poll: Will the Sharks make it back to the Stanley Cup Final?

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 25:  Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly presents the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to Joe Pavelski #8 and the San Jose Sharks after their 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 25, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Not many people expected San Jose to be in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015-16, but with expectations at an all-time low, they did it.

San Jose has put together some talented teams and before last season, they weren’t able to get over the hump. But now that they’ve gotten over the hump, expectations are back up.

How realistic are these expectations though?

On paper, the Sharks are still loaded. They didn’t lose much this off-season and managed to add speedster Mikkel Boedker in free agency.

Still, when you’re dealing with a number of veterans, you never know when their production will start to dip.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are all over 30. Marleau and Thornton are 36 and 37-years-old and they’re entering the final year of their contracts.

The Stanley Cup hangover is real. Although the Sharks didn’t win it, those veterans went four rounds and played in some grueling games along the way. Will they be in tip-top shape come October?

On a more positive note, those veterans are surrounded by some good young players. Logan Couture has developed into a go-to guy, Tomas Hertl proved to be a difference maker at times last year, Joonas Donskoi scored some big goals in the playoffs and prospects like Mirco Mueller, Nikolay Goldobin and Timo Meier are on their way.

The team also has some remarkable depth on defense, as Burns is joined by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and a few other key contributors.

Between the pipes, Martin Jones‘ first season as a starting goaltender went pretty well.

“A special group,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said after losing in the Stanley Cup Final, per the team’s website . “But only one team can win. That doesn’t take anything away from what those guys accomplished. I don’t think anyone should ever question the leadership or the character or the will of the group of men in there. I think it’s been misplaced for a decade.

“I would hope they answered some questions. Let’s be honest. Not many people had us making the playoffs. Not many people had us beating [the Los Angeles Kings in the first round]. On an on. I thought a lot of questions were answered by that group.”

It won’t be easy for them to make it back to the final. They’ll have some stiff competition in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and any other team that might surprise.

So, can this “special group” do it all over again next season?

Time to vote!