Marcus White

What Erik Karlsson re-signing says about Sharks in Bret Hedican's eyes

What Erik Karlsson re-signing says about Sharks in Bret Hedican's eyes

Six days before he could have begun speaking with other teams and two weeks before he could have signed with one, Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson chose to stay put.

The 29-year-old signed an eight-year contract with San Jose on Monday, opting to forego unrestricted free agency. The only active defenseman with two Norris Trophies and the highest-scoring blue liner since he entered the league a decade ago, Karlsson likely would have had no shortage of suitors this summer.

He said Monday that re-signing was his top priority headed into the offseason, and NBC Sports California analyst Bret Hedican thinks it's a testament to what the Sharks have built that the Swedish defenseman skipped out on the free-agent frenzy entirely.

"I just thought for sure with all the options he was going to have in July that maybe he'd test the water," Hedican said in an interview Monday morning. "But it just speaks to (general manager) Doug Wilson and (majority owner) Hasso Plattner and obviously the coaching staff, everything that has gone on throughout the course of the year with Karlsson being here that he was impressed enough with everybody and the situation where he's at to sign a long-term deal."

Hedican played 1,039 NHL games, winning a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 before retiring three years later. He was 38 in his last season in the league, and Karlsson will be 37 when his contract expires in 2027. Hedican said he thought Karlsson likely learned a lot this season about how he'll need to take care of his body as he gets older, and so he can withstand the rigors of an 82-game regular season and deep playoff runs.

Karlsson played 53 regular-season games, missing 27 down the stretch due to groin issues that required offseason surgery.

What will help Karlsson as he ages is his quick thinking and decision-making. Hedican likened the defenseman's hockey IQ to a modern computer processor.

"You remember when we first got computers, the processor wasn't very fast," Hedican said. "You had to wait to get things done. Now, you've got these [processors] that you hit one stroke of the key, and all these things just happen in a matter of split seconds, right? That's the processor that Erik Karlsson has.

"When you can lock a guy down like that, you just don't get the opportunities like that every day."

Karlsson will not be tasked with leading the blue line alone, especially offensively. Brent Burns, a Norris Trophy finalist who just set a career-high in points this season (83), is under contract for six more years. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, meanwhile, becomes a free agent a year after Burns.

[RELATED: What Karlsson re-signing means for Sharks moving forward]

Burns, Karlsson and Vlasic, respectively, finished No. 1 and No. 2 among the Sharks in ice time during the regular season and playoffs. Karlsson and Burns played together at times on offensive-zone faceoffs at even strength or when the Sharks were pushing to tie games late, in addition to sharing time on the power play.

Hedican said the two got some of the growing pains out of the way last season, but that the shared understanding between the duo has to continue to develop for the Sharks to contend now and moving forward.

"You have to understand that through the 82 games that maybe you're not gonna get 22 minutes one night, maybe you get 18," Hedican said. " ... I think understanding that, and having these two players work together throughout the course of an 82-game year, learning how to play with one another -- and without one another -- is gonna be important."

How Erik Karlsson contract impacts Sharks on ice, salary cap, at NHL Draft

How Erik Karlsson contract impacts Sharks on ice, salary cap, at NHL Draft

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson got his man.

Nine months after a trade that first brought him to San Jose, defenseman Erik Karlsson officially signed an eight-year contract with the team Monday morning, which TSN's Bob McKenzie and CapFriendly reported is worth $11.5 million annually. That would make the two-time Norris Trophy winner the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and San Jose's highest-paid player ever.

What does the deal mean for the Sharks? Let's take a look at Karlsson's contract and its impact in three key areas.

On the ice

By just about any metric, Karlsson is one of the NHL's best defenseman -- if not the best -- when healthy. No defenseman has more points (563) or won more Norris Trophies (two) as the league's best blue liner since the smooth-skating Swede made his debut a decade ago. Karlsson will help keep the Sharks' Stanley Cup window open over the next few years, and represent a key piece in one of the league's best defense groups.

The 29-year-old was limited to 53 regular-season games in 2018-19, missing 27 of those games after the turn of the calendar thanks to nagging groin injuries. Despite that, Karlsson still led all defensemen who played at least 750 5-on-5 minutes in corsi-for percentage, and finished no worse than 10th by the other major puck-possession measures among that group, according to Natural Stat Trick. He was also third among all defenseman in Evolving Hockey's goals above replacement (GAR) and wins above replacement (WAR) metrics after playing 27 and 13 fewer games, respectively, than the two blue liners who finished above him (John Carlson, Victor Hedman).

Karlsson's groin continued to bother him in the Stanley Cup playoffs, forcing him to play just 10:27 in Game 5 of the Western Conference final and miss Game 6 entirely after aggravating it in Game 4. Because of the groin issues, this marked the second straight season Karlsson played in fewer games than his last. Back in 2017, he missed the first five games of the Ottawa Senators' season after undergoing surgery on his left ankle, and missed 11 in total after skating in 77 games the previous season.

Karlson underwent groin surgery earlier this month, and told reporters on a conference call Monday that he expects to be ready for the start of the season.

"I'm in that process (of rehabbing) right now," Karlsson said. "It's gonna be all summer long. I'm gonna do everything I can to be as good as I possibly can for when the season starts. So far, no problems, and I don't expect this to be an issue starting next year.

"It's gonna be a lot of work, but it's work that I'm gonna be more than willing to put in and I've already started that. ... I'm gonna have a great summer ahead of me, and I'll be back in San Jose in no time."

Before 2017-18, Karlsson played in at least 75 games in six straight 82-game seasons. But he'll be 36 in the final year of his eight-year contract, and a defenseman that age (or older) has played in at least 75 games 21 times since 2013-14. Only five played in at least 60 games last season, and there were only seven in the league.

In a league that's getting younger every year, the Sharks are betting on Karlsson to be one of those exceptions. That's a risky proposition for any player, but Karlsson's on-ice track record speaks for itself.

Against the cap

Over the weekend, Sportsnet's Elliote Friedman reported that "several teams indicated they thought the cap might be closer to" $82 million in 2019-20 than the NHL's initial projected salary cap of $83 million. Let's go with the low end, and say next season's cap is $82 million. 

With Karlsson reportedly signing for around $11.5 million, San Jose would have about $12.5 million in salary-cap space, according to Cap Friendly. The Sharks have 16 players under contract, but quite a few free agents left to sign.

Forwards Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi can all become unrestricted free agents, while young wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are set to hit restricted free agency. Pavelski and Meier combined to score 68 goals last season, and Evolving Hockey's contract model pegs the pair to make a combined $13.5 million on their next contracts.

Those are just projections, and it's possible both players take some kind of a discount, but it does exemplify the cap crunch the Sharks face this summer. Wilson would not comment on the Sharks' negotiations with their pending free agents, but said that Karlsson re-signing doesn't necessarily rule anything else out.

"I don't think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything," Wilson said. "There's many ways to accomplish different things. ... You explore everything. It's a two-way street where everybody has choices and options, but all discussions are ongoing with all our UFAs and RFAs at this point, and will continue."

Beyond this summer and next season, Karlsson is now the sixth player Wilson has signed to a deal of at least six years since 2016. Before Brent Burns signed an eight-year extension in 2016, Wilson had signed just one player (Milan Michalek, 2007) to a contract lasting at least six years.

Karlsson, whose deal reportedly includes a no-movement clause, fellow defensemen Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, forwards Logan Couture and Evander Kane and goaltender Martin Jones all are now signed until at least 2024. All six will be in their early- to mid-30s by then, and would have to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft due to the trade protection in their deals.

With Meier first eligible for unrestricted free agency in four years and Tomas Hertl due to become a UFA in three, the Sharks likely will have a lot of money tied up in a core that's getting older in the coming years. A lot can -- and almost certainly will -- change before the end of Karlsson's contract, but Wilson will have to maintain flexibility in filling out the rest of the roster.

The draft is a key component of that.

[RELATED: Report: Karlsson's contract doesn't rule out Pavelski return]

At the draft

With Karlsson officially under contract, the trade that first brought him to San Jose is now complete. As a condition of him re-signing, the Sharks will send a 2021 second-round pick to Ottawa in addition to the 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 first-round pick and the four roster players traded to the Senators on the eve of training camp last September.

Including this week's draft in Vancouver, here's the Sharks' draft outlook over the next three seasons:

  • Four picks in 2019 (Third round, fifth round, sixth round and seventh round)
  • Four picks in 2020 (Second round, fourth round, and two in fifth round)
  • Six picks in 2021 (First round, second round, third round, fourth round, fifth round and sixth round)

The Sharks would have lost their 2021 first-round pick had they made the Stanley Cup Final, and that pick will be important as Wilson tries to surround Karlsson and Co. with developing, affordable talent. Wilson mentioned on his conference call with reporters that he thinks San Jose currently has prospects capable of pushing for roster spots, especially on the wing.

With just eight total picks over the next two seasons, Wilson said the Sharks will continue to be active in scouting and signing European free agents. This season, seven such players played in at least 25 games for San Jose, and continuing that will allow the Sharks to keep the organizational cupboard stocked and build a roster around Karlsson and the rest of their core.

Women's World Cup: Bay Area's Tierna Davidson shines for USWNT vs. Chile

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AP

Women's World Cup: Bay Area's Tierna Davidson shines for USWNT vs. Chile

The United States Women's National Team's youngest player might have been its best Sunday. 

20-year-old Tierna Davidson made her first Women's World Cup start, and assisted twice in the United States' 3-0 win over Chile in Paris. Davidson was one of seven changes to the starting lineup that head coach Jill Ellis made after Tuesday's 13-0 thrashing of Thailand, and the victory clinched the Americans' spot in the Round of 16. 

Davidson, a Menlo Park native who attended Sacred Heart Preparatory (Atherton) and Stanford, started at left back in the Group F clash. Normally a central defender, Davidson was on corner-kick duty Sunday as a fullback. She delivered two pinpoint, left-footed crosses 10 minutes apart in the first half, setting up Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd's headers.

Davidson, who left Stanford with a year of eligibility to become the No. 1 pick (Chicago Red Stars) in January's NWSL draft, said after the game that taking corners didn't necessarily come naturally. 

“I was a little bit unsure exactly because I hadn’t taken a corner kick since September, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just put it up there for Carli and she will get her head on there, put it in there for [Ertz] and she’ll get her head on it,’” Davidson told Pro Soccer USA's Ashley Scoby. “Big credit to them, because we have such fantastic aerial presence and they really commit to what they do. So me putting it just outside the goalkeeper’s range was all I really had to do for them to score.”

Although she is the USWNT's youngest player, Davidson has been a fixture in Ellis' side when healthy. Davidson missed World Cup qualifying with a left ankle injury, but started 12 games in 2018. She played all 90 minutes in each of her first five caps, becoming the first to do so since Julie Foudy in 1994. 

On Sunday, Davidson became the youngest player to start for the USWNT at a World Cup since 1995, as well as the youngest defender ever, according to TruMedia Networks' Paul Carr. Central defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who has over 100 more caps than Davidson, told reporters in Paris that Davidson's potential is nearly limitless. 

Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper -- another Sacred Heart alum -- likely remain locks for Ellis in central defense, but Davidson's performance might have given Ellis something to ponder with regards to her back line. Crystal Dunn, who plays forward for the NWSL's North Carolina Courage, started at left back against Thailand. Dunn offers more in attack than Davidson, but the 20-year-old's defensive instincts might be needed as the Americans face stiffer competition deeper in the tournament.

Ellis, for her part, was impressed by Davidson's performance in the attacking third. 

“I mean, those balls she played in – she’s got one of the sweetest left foots I’ve ever seen,” Ellis told Scoby. “I think her distribution on the ball – she can open up a game with the left foot and obviously her set pieces.”

[RELATED: Watch Lloyd, USWNT troll celebration critics]

Thursday's Group F finale against Sweden will be the USWNT's first real test of the tournament. Winning Group F would likely eventually set up a quarterfinals matchup with host France, but playing Canada -- second place in Group E faces second place in Group F -- in the Round of 16 still sets up a difficult path through the knockout stages. 

Ellis' Thursday lineup and eventual substitutions, then, should provide some insight into her thinking ahead of the knockout stages. With Sunday's two-assist performance, Davidson certainly made a strong case for herself.