Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”


Erik Karlsson skates with his new Sharks teammates for the first time

Erik Karlsson skates with his new Sharks teammates for the first time

SAN JOSE -- Erik Karlsson wasn't the first player on the ice at Sharks training camp Wednesday morning. That’s understandable, since the Swedish defenseman arrived in the Bay Area around 10 p.m. Tuesday, and practiced with his new club for the first time around 12 hours later. 

How did Karlsson’s new teammates welcome him to the locker room?

“I said hi to him,” Sharks defenseman Brent Burns cracked to reporters Wednesday. “There were no balloons, or cakes or anything. I think we know kind of how hard it is for a guy like that, or for anybody.

“You try to make him feel welcome but also give him a break, too, because I think it’s going to be crazy for him.”

It wasn’t always clear when Karlsson would join his new team. The Sharks acquired the 28-year-old in a massive trade with the Ottawa Senators last Thursday, but he still had immigration issues to sort through after moving from a Canadian franchise to an American one. 

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer didn’t expect Karlsson to join the team until the end of the week, and captain Joe Pavelski said the team received word that the defenseman could have joined the team Wednesday, or possibly even later. 

But those concerns went away when the two-time Norris Trophy winner finally stepped on to the ice. 

“I think we’ll keep him,” DeBoer said. “He’s a world-class player. When you add players with skill and speed like that to our group, it energizes them, too. Good players want to play with good players. I thought the energy level of the whole group was up today because of his presence, and he came as advertised.”

Karlsson constantly chatted with his new teammates. Whether stretching, between drills or in the locker room, it was rare to see him alone. Fellow defenseman Justin Braun explained an early transition drill, and assistant coach Rob Zettler skated over to speak with Karlsson during, and after, another one. 

The Sharks who didn't skate in Tuesday night’s preseason game practiced with Karlsson on Wednesday morning, while those who did skated later on. Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play in that game, and he skated alongside his new teammate for the majority of the session -- although DeBoer was quick to say afterward that it’s too early to know whether they will end up playing with one another. 

DeBoer gave the fans in attendance a glimpse at another possibility: Burns and Karlsson playing alongside one another in three-on-three overtime. The duo skated with Pavelski during a full-rink scrimmage at the end of practice, and Burns buried Karlsson’s backdoor pass to conclude the session. 

Pavelski said having Karlsson join the Sharks toward the beginning of camp allows the team to enter the season on the same page. 

“It’s great for us,” Pavelski said. “Our group is set, and we get to spend some time in these [preseason] games, then he’s not trying to play catch-up by any means. It’s always nice to get as many pieces as you can together and get an earlier start just so you’re comfortable. 

“When you get here early enough, it’s nice to be able to hit those stages all at once, blend it together and get up to speed.”

It’s not likely that Karlsson will play in Thursday’s preseason game in Anaheim. DeBoer said the Sharks' coaching staff is still focused on evaluating some of the young players in camp, and they’ll map out the remaining four games afterward. 

Karlsson still has details to learn as he gets up to speed and acclimated to his new team. That includes his apparel on the ice, and off of it: Burns noted than in addition to getting used to his new gear, Karlsson came to the rink wearing long pants on a day with temperatures sitting in the 70s.

“That’s probably going to be the last day,” Burns quipped.

Other than that, the Sharks don’t feel like they need to give their newest defenseman too much instruction.

“I think with the type of player he is, he’s just going to find his own way [even] if you told him nothing,” Pavelski said. “He’ll just play hockey, and we’ll give some structure. … With the skill set he has, I believe he’ll adjust pretty quickly.”

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

Erik Karlsson: New Sharks defenseman explained in four key stats

The moment has arrived. After almost a week of waiting, Wednesday marks the beginning of defenseman Erik Karlsson’s time with the Sharks.  

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has made it clear he wants to lock up the Swedish superstar for a long time, and the Sharks have emerged as one of the league’s most intriguing teams after acquiring the two-time Norris Trophy winner. 

So what, exactly, is all the hubbub about? Here a four stats and figures that describe just what kind of player he is. 


Since entering the league in 2009, that’s how many more points Karlsson has scored than the next closest defenseman, Florida Panthers blueliner Keith Yandle. In fact, Karlsson’s 518 points through his first nine NHL seasons are more than all but 10 defensemen in league history. One of those 10? Doug Wilson.

That’s impressive, regardless of context, but it’s worth remembering that Karlsson plays in a much different era than those ahead of him. Goaltending is better right now than it’s ever been, indicated by the fact that each of Karlsson’s nine NHL seasons rank in the top-12 by average save percentage. When you adjust for era, the start of Karlsson’s career is even more impressive.

Among defensemen in their first nine seasons, Karlsson ranks fifth in Hockey Reference’s adjusted points (576). He’s third in adjusted assists (431), only behind Bobby Orr (593) and Paul Coffey (477). In other words: Karlsson is a generational offensive talent. 


There is, perhaps, no better number to encapsulate Karlsson’s unique combination of vision and playmaking ability. 114 is approximately how many feet this saucer pass traveled off of Karlsson’s stick and into the path of a wide-open Mike Hoffman during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That was the last time Karlsson and the Senators made the playoffs, finishing a double-overtime goal away from facing the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. Playing on an ankle that ultimately required offseason surgery, Karlsson led Ottawa with 18 points in 19 games, 13 of which came at even strength.

After a disastrous season, both Hoffman and Karlsson are no longer in Ottawa. The Sharks briefly acquired Hoffman this summer, and flipped him to the Florida Panthers hours later. The trades came days after the Ottawa Citizen reported that Karlsson’s wife, Melinda, filed an order of protection after Hoffman’s fiancee allegedly harassed her repeatedly online. 


243 defenseman have logged 3000, five-on-five minutes since the start of the 2009-10 season. Of that group, only five players have posted a better adjusted corsi-for percentage relative to their teammates than Karlsson’s mark of plus-4.35, according to Corsica Hockey.

What does that mean? When Karlsson was on the ice, the Senators attempted 52.05 percent of the shots. When his teammates were on the ice without him, that number fell to 48.7 percent. 4.35, then, is the difference in those percentages, and its positive value means his teammates attempted a smaller share of shots when they weren't playing with him.

The gap was especially stark in Karlsson’s last season in the Canadian capital. Last season, Ottawa just about broke even with him on the ice, and attempted 49.68 percent of the shots. Meanwhile, the Senators attempted only 44.9 percent of the shots without him. That latter mark would have been dead-last out of 31 teams in the league last year. 


Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is also a Norris Trophy winner (2017), and since the bearded blueliner moved back to the position in 2014-15, only Karlsson (281) has scored more points (278). This number equals their combined shot attempts per hour of five-on-five play over that span. 

Burns ranks first (20.06) by the metric among defenseman (min. 1000 minutes) during that time, while Karlsson (13.86) ranks sixth, per Corsica Hockey. No two defenseman on the same team (as of this writing) eclipse that combined total. 

The Sharks, for reference, attempted 58.49 five-on-five shots per hour over the last four seasons. Plugging in Karlsson doesn’t mean San Jose will attempt nearly 14 more shots per 60 minutes, but it does mean they’ll be able to rely on the two blueliners to put a lot of pucks on net this season.

On Wednesday, be sure to watch Erik Karlsson’s first practice with the Sharks at approximately 10:30 a.m., streaming live at At 3 p.m., tune into Karlsson’s introductory press conference on NBC Sports California and also streaming live at