SAN JOSE -- The NHL is advising teams to be ready to begin a 48-game season Jan. 19, but things still were a few days from returning to normal Monday at Sharks Ice.
It won't be business as usual there until later this week when owners and players officially end their four-month lockout by ratifying the tentative agreement reached over the weekend.
Yet there were not-so-subtle differences at the team's practice rink, where team management apologized for the recent past and planned for the near future.
Players practicing there could use the team's locker room for the first time since September. The coaching staff could watch them from a balcony adjacent to general manager Doug Wilson's office. There were a few new faces around, including defenseman Jason Demers, a soft cast on his wrist after an injury suffered in Europe.
And everyone was ready to begin talking about what comes next.
"This is a sprint," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, abandoning the usual description of an 82-game season as a marathon. "You can't over-experiment, you can't wade your way into a season, you can't go on extended losing streaks. Your team has to be resilient."
The Sharks also have renamed the period that will precede their first game. Don't call it training camp.
"Preparation camp," Wilson called it. "You're preparing people to get started to play in a compressed
When camp opens -- sources indicated that won't happen until this weekend -- don't look for the usual 60 players competing for 23 roster spots. McLellan said he expects about 25 to be on hand, and he likes that most of them are returning from last season.
"One of the good things with our club heading in is we only brought in two new faces," McLellan said, referring to free-agent defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Adam Burish.
Even the less-familiar faces likely to be in camp have had a chance to learn the Sharks' system over the past four months in Worcester.
Neither McLellan nor Wilson would identify which players might be called up. But based on their play and injuries to other prospects, forward James Sheppard and defensemen Matt Irwin and Matt Tennyson are most likely headed to San Jose.
Because of injuries, the biggest questions to be answered in training camp involve the defense. Demers, who said he could be playing in another two weeks, and Justin Braun are dealing with wrist problems. Brent Burns might still be limited by offseason groin surgery, though he was given a clean bill of health Oct. 9.
Demers and Braun were among 11 Sharks who played in Europe at some point during the lockout. Did McLellan think that would give them an advantage early in the season?
"I don't think it can hurt," he said. "What will be interesting for us and a lot of teams around the league is trying to integrate the guys that have been playing for three months, four months on a regular basis and the ones that haven't."
Players weren't sure what effect playing in Europe or having a shortened season might have.
"You can look at it two different ways," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "There's the guys that have been playing and are probably more alert, more ready to go. But the guys that haven't, we don't have 25 to 30 games under our belt. Maybe down the road we might be a little fresher."
As a team, the Sharks were mindful that the lockout caused problems for fans, downtown businesses and arena employees.
"It's beyond unfortunate," Wilson said. "It's sad and it's been real. All of us included in this game do owe an apology that our fans had to go through this and to the people who were impacted by it."
McLellan added that the players and coaches have the responsibility of winning back those fans alienated by the NHL.
"It's our job," he said, "to put a quality product on the ice, to play hard, to win as many games as possible, and try to earn their loyalty back."
For more on the Sharks, visit blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow David Pollak on Twitter@PollakOnSharks.