Handzus makes no excuses for last season

Handzus makes no excuses for last season
January 11, 2013, 2:45 pm
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In 67 games, Handzus had seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points and a -6 rating. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – Michal Handzus’ ineffective first season with the Sharks made much more sense when it was revealed last July that the 35-year-old center played through a nagging hip injury that started bothering him in October. After all, the Slovakia native had been a steady NHL player for many years with the Blues, Coyotes, Flyers, Blackhawks and Kings, and the Sharks figured that Handzus would be an effective third line center while helping to improve the penalty kill.

Neither happened. Handzus’ inability to help generate offense on the third line, coupled with his struggles on the Sharks’ terrible penalty killing unit, forced general manager Doug Wilson to trade for center Dominic Moore in February. Moore wasn’t any better than Handzus, though, and that role ended up being a huge hole in the Sharks’ lineup.

In 67 games, Handzus had seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points and a -6 rating.

“I know last year wasn’t good for me,” Handzus said on Friday, after skating for the first time this season at Sharks Ice. “I didn’t play well or help the team as much as I wanted to, or as much as the team wanted me to. I just put it behind me. It’s a new year, and I [will] try to prove to my teammates, management and fans that I can help the team. That’s my goal.”

The Sharks' season ended in early April at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and Handzus was able to take some time off before suiting up for his native country in the World Championships. There, he had two goals and five assists in eight games, including a game-winning goal against Canada, and resembled the player the Sharks thought they were getting when they inked him to a two-year, $5 million contract.

In 19 games with HC Banska Bystricka during the lockout, Handzus had a solid 19 points (9g, 10a) in 19 games.

Considering his solid play after the Sharks' season ended, a logical conclusion could be drawn that Handzus would have been better served to take some time off and rest his hip at some point, rather than try to play through it.

Right?

“At that time, it’s tough to say. I thought it wasn’t big enough,” Handzus said. “I thought I could play through it. I practiced pretty much whole practices. I thought it wasn’t anything big. But, it was nagging and it was getting worse.”

“I’m not a guy that if something hurts I’m not going to play. I’m going to play through it. The only time I’m not going to play is if the doctors say no, or I can’t go. Maybe it would have helped if I took some time off, but I probably would never do that. I would still try to play through it. I’ve proved over my career that I play a lot of games hurt, and I play well. It’s one of those things that I didn’t, and it was disappointing for me.”

One of most professional players around, Handzus was clear that he didn’t want to make any excuses for his performance last season.

“I didn’t play well enough, bottom line,” he said. “I don’t want to go back with what happened, and stuff like that. It’s a new year, and I just have to prove that I’m a better player.”

* * *

Handzus was one of 11 Sharks that played abroad during the lockout. That should help the club entering a shortened, 48-game season that begins on Jan. 20 in Calgary.

“The game shape and timing with the puck and everything in a game is very important,” he said. “If you play a little bit at least and get in some games, at least you know what’s going on. Coming in, you’re going to feel more comfortable in games right away, because it’s a [week-long] camp and then you play big games. You know every game is going to be big right from the start. I think it’s going to help that a lot of guys played.”

Handzus enjoyed playing for his hometown club for the first time since he was a teenager, but isn’t sure how much the experience is going to help him for the start of the Sharks’ season.

“I’m glad that I played some games. It was a lot of fun in front of my hometown fans. I didn’t play there for 16 years, but I tried to take that as preparation for a season, but it was tough because the game is different. Here, it’s a lot of skating up and down, there it’s more like East-West, and a slow game. I felt good over there, but we’ll see how I feel over here.”

* * *

There were 16 Sharks on the ice at the practice facility on Friday, and without coaches, it was Dan Boyle who appeared to be leading the drills.

According to Joe Thornton, about half the team is expected to skate on Saturday. Many could opt for a final day off before camp is expected to begin on Sunday.

The season schedule will likely be revealed on Saturday, too. The Sharks have a preliminary schedule in hand, but the league has decided not to release the full slate of games until the NHLPA ratifies the new CBA.