NHL players — the majority of them, at least — are excited for the eventual return of hockey.
The same goes for Patrick Sharp, even three years past the end of his playing career.
The three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks, now a studio analyst with NBC Sports, said this week he’s thrilled by the league’s 24-team playoff format and timeline.
“No one’s happier than my wife that I’m getting out of the house to go back to TV,” Sharp joked. “Because I’ve rearranged all the furniture in the house. I’m working on the kitchen now, moving some food around and cleaning out some cupboards.”
“At NBC, I know we’ll be a part of it, we’ll be covering the games. How we’re going to do that, we’ll figure it out as we go.”
In the studio, the adjustment back to live hockey won’t be that difficult. The in-game commentary is the realm that could see massive changes.
But as a player, Sharp experienced during the 2012-13 NHL lockout — which shortened the regular season to 48 games, starting in mid-January — how much work it takes to stay in game shape through an abnormally long layoff.
Unlike some players that year, Sharp didn’t play overseas in autumn due to the recent birth of his oldest daughter, meaning he went nine months between competitive games.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “You train as best you can to stay in shape physically. You try to stay in touch with the game as best you can.”
The Hawks who did stay in Chicago frequently gathered at Johnny’s IceHouse West to work out and practice together, despite the lack of coach supervision. Some minor-leaguers from Rockford joined them, Sharp said.
And the team’s dedication to hockey even with the league officially locked out greatly benefitted them when the lockout ended.
“When we all got together in January, it was clear that we were prepared and ready to play,” Sharp said. “We started that season 24 games without a [regulation] loss. That’s probably something that doesn’t happen in a normal season, but it goes to show that...getting yourself ready to go when the puck drops is important. We did that.”
The 2013 lockout substantially shifted the league landscape. The Hawks, first-round losers the year before, had their absurd run; the Penguins ripped off their own 15-game winning streak.
Of the eight teams that advanced to the second round in 2012, only two (the Kings and Rangers) did so again in 2013. The Hawks went on to win the Cup.
Sharp said he expects the same phenomenon to happen again this summer, as teams’ fitness, readiness and attitudes may have changed from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic.
Unlike the lockout, moreover, many players haven’t been able to even follow their own typical individual training routines.
“Nobody really knows what’s coming, because we can look at what’s been played these past 70 games that ended in March, but it’s a whole different ballgame now,” he said. “Nobody really knows what they’re going to have until they get back together as a group and get on the ice and sort this thing out.”
And that wide-open hierarchy could benefit the Hawks as much as anyone.
“The Blackhawks’ veteran players, they’ve seen pretty much everything,” Sharp said. “Nothing’s going to surprise Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford.”