Sharp expecting unexpected as NHL returns

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp is certain the NHL is coming back, but he said Tuesday there's little else he knows about the upcoming season.

"I don't know what to expect to be honest with you," Sharp said. "It's going to be tough if there's no preseason games. Whoever can adjust the quickest and get off to a great start (will benefit.) But 48 games is still a lot. The competition will be there."

The NHL is targeting Jan. 19 as a start date to a 48-game regular season, a source told ESPN.com Tuesday.

Sharp and his teammates are still in the dark about many things regarding the upcoming season. They're not even sure when the team will officially begin practice. They hope to know more after the NHL's board of governors and NHLPA's members vote on the new collective bargaining agreement later this week.

Until then, the Blackhawks are doing what they can to stay ready. On Tuesday, Sharp was among a group of 13 players, including 10 Blackhawks, who gathered at Johnny's IceHouse West to participate in another informal 1½-hour workout, which included drills and scrimmaging.

Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, who have been playing with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL during the lockout, returned to Chicago on Tuesday and brought some extra life to the rink.

"It helps to be on the ice," Sharp said. "It helps to be out there with the guys. Today we had some players join us who have been playing all season long. It's always nice to see, gauge yourself what kind of shape you're in. We really don't know. We've been working hard and doing a lot of different things. But until we get out there as a group in training camp and play some games, nobody really knows."

Sharp also brought up the question whether the players who remained active in the AHL and in other leagues overseas during the lockout would be athletically ahead of the others who chose not to play competitively.

"You want to be as prepared as you can, but who's to say guys who were playing have the advantage, maybe guys who weren't playing," Sharp said. "Nobody really knows. It's how you take care of yourself. It's how you react to the fast start. I guess time will tell."

Bollig, who has played 35 games this season, said there's no substitute for game action.

"There's no shape like game shape," Bollig said. "You can ride a bike as much as you want. Skating is obviously different. And a game is different than practice. We'll see obviously. Guys who haven't been playing are the ones who have been pros for a long time and been doing it for a long time. I'm sure they'll be ready."

Another uncertainty for the players is what sort of impact a shortened NHL season might have on their bodies. The Blackhawks don't have to look any further than down the hall at the United Center to see what last season's compacted NBA schedule did to the Bulls, who were injury-prone throughout the lockout-shortened campaign.

Sharp hopes the NHL won't have those same problems.

"You know you play 82 games (normally,)" Sharp said. "Sometimes you're playing 3-4 games a week as well. It's nothing any different than we're used to.

"I think injuries are always a concern. You want to take care of yourself. These days, athletes seem to be doing that more and more. I haven't seen a schedule, so I don't know how compressed it's going to be. Injuries are always something you want to stay on top of."

The other Blackhawks who attended Tuesday's workout session were Daniel Carcillo, Marian Hossa, Jamal Mayers, Dave Bolland, Sheldon Brookbank and Corey Crawford.