SAN JOSE -- After weeks of mystery, the Sharks shined a light on Erik Karlsson’s injury status.
The defenseman revealed to reporters Friday there is a chance he could return to the lineup at the end of the regular season after being sidelined with another injury. But there also is a possibility that he won’t return until the Stanley Cup playoffs start, and he plans on being ready for them next month.
So, what are some of the advantages, and disadvantages, to getting EK65 back into the Sharks' lineup before the 2019 regular-season campaign ends?
For starters, there isn’t any need to rush him back. As fans and hockey viewers already have observed, Team Teal is able to win games in Karlsson’s absence.
Fellow Swedish defenseman Tim Heed has done an outstanding job filling in Karlsson’s spot on the blue line, tallying five points in the last five games in which he has played. Not to mention that San Jose has won all five of those games, even if it didn’t win all of them cleanly. (The Sharks' come-from-behind effort in Detroit was a grind, although they did pull out a W.)
All of this, in turn, takes pressure off the two-time Norris Trophy winner to return to the ice too quickly. While Karlsson previously revealed he doesn’t enjoy having to sit out, he said watching the team win makes him feel better about going through his rehab process.
There are, however, advantages to Karlsson returning before the playoffs start. Sure, he was able to bounce right back into action in his last return from injury back on Feb. 16 and tally an assist in the Sharks’ 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
However, there’s no guarantee Karlsson will bounce right back into action just as seamlessly. There also is the matter of reconfiguring the blue line and on special teams when he returns. If he gets paired back up with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, would the two be able to instantly find chemistry? What if Sharks coach Pete DeBoer sees the need to juggle up the D-pairs? These are the kinds of questions a team likely would want answered before a playoff series gets underway.
The Sharks will not rush Karlsson back unnecessarily. But if he was able to get a couple of games in before the season ends, when might that happen?
If the defenseman’s condition greatly improves over the next couple of weeks, San Jose might try to get him into the lineup in the last week of the season when the competition -- the LA Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche – is a bit less extreme.
If Karlsson ends up being healthy enough to pencil in for San Jose’s home back-to-back against the Golden Knights and the Flames, that could be a better test for getting him playoff ready. However, rushing Karlsson back so he can participate in two heavy-hitting games also comes with the risk of him being hurt again. This is only a guess, but if he comes back before the regular season concludes, that last week might make the most sense.
For now, however, Karlsson will remain sidelined as he tries to get back to being 100 percent ready to help the Sharks make a deep playoff run. It’s just a matter of time before we see if he’ll take the ice before the regular season ends.