Sharks

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. 

96

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. 

114

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. 

Plus-4.35 

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. 

33.98

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 facebook.com/nbcsauthentic. At 3 p.m., tune into Karlsson’s introductory press conference on NBC Sports California and also streaming live at facebook.com/nbcsauthentic.

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

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Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

To say the Sharks' season thus far has been a major disappointment would be the understatement of 2020. San Jose is in the midst of its worst season in more than 15 years, and it has been a bumpy ride from the start.

The four consecutive losses to begin the season weren't the final nail in former head coach Peter DeBoer's coffin, but they did set his eventual dismissal in motion. A dismal October was counteracted by an impressive November, but a lengthy losing streak to begin December prompted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to make a change behind the bench.

San Jose had been performing better under interim head coach Bob Boughner since the switch, but three blowout losses heading into the All-Star break have dried up any momentum the team had generated. The Sharks sit 11 points back of playoff positioning with 32 games left to play and several teams ahead of them to leapfrog. Here are the main three reasons San Jose finds itself in such unusually bad shape:

Goaltending 

The most obvious sign that a team's season has taken a wrong turn is a coaching change. The second-most obvious? A goalie switch.

Martin Jones entered the season as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie by default. His playoff experience, combined with his hefty and immovable contract, gave him the leg up on backup netminder Aaron Dell. But not all of that postseason experience has been impressive, and Jones didn't do anything to answer the question marks he entered the current season with. He lost nine of his first 11 starts, and the Sharks have only won one of his last 10. Over those two separate cold streaks, he failed to post a save percentage of .900 or better in 16 of the 21 games.

Other than stopping pucks, consistency is arguably the most important quality in a goaltender, and Jones simply wasn't providing that, nor has he for quite a while. Dell, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the No. 1 spot, stealing Jones' job and running with it. While Dell's numbers aren't overly impressive since becoming the starter, they're better than Jones', and it's likely Dell's steady presence in net that has given Boughner the confidence to stick with him.

Despite the improved goaltending since the coaching change, the Sharks still rank near the bottom of the league in all of the important metrics. San Jose's cumulative save percentage (.891) ranks third-worst in the NHL, while the team's cumulative goals-against average (3.10) is tied for sixth-worst. And that's not the worst of it. The Sharks' goalies have actually performed substantially better when the team has been shorthanded than they have at even strength.

There are no obvious ways for the Sharks to improve their goaltending situation moving forward, so what you see is likely what you're going to get. If San Jose is going to make a second-half comeback, both Dell and Jones will have to be considerably better than we've seen thus far.

Power play

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than a season ago, and when you combine that with some substandard goaltending, disaster ensues. Just ask DeBoer.

Some of that offensive drop-off was expected, but San Jose's fall from a power-play juggernaut to its current middling state certainly was not, at least not to this extent. Last season, the Sharks scored at the sixth-highest clip in the league with the man-advantage, scoring on 23.7 percent of their power-play opportunities. This season, that scoring rate has plummeted to 16.7 percent, seventh-worst in the NHL. And that's only half the problem.

Through the first 50 games, San Jose has had only 138 power-play opportunities (2.76 per game), the sixth-fewest in the league. Last season, the Sharks went on the power play 241 times, or 2.94 opportunities per game.

So, not only are the Sharks going on the power play less often, but they're also not being very effective with the opportunities they do get. For a team that has been shorthanded 163 times already (fourth-most in the NHL), that's just asking for trouble.

[RELATED: Sharks mailbag: Is Wilson's job as GM in serious jeopardy?]

Emergence of younger players

When Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi departed in free agency over the offseason, the Sharks lost 58 goals -- or roughly one-fifth of their 2018-19 season total. It wasn't going to be easy to replace that kind of production, and with little in the way of offseason signings in the forward group, San Jose inevitably was going to be reliant on several of its younger players taking the next step in their development to help fill the void.

Well, that hasn't really happened.

Tomas Hertl, an injury-replacement All-Star, is on pace to score 25 goals after notching 35 a year ago. Timo Meier appeared to make the leap last season when he tallied 30 goals and 66 points, but he has failed to expand upon that promise in the current campaign. Barclay Goodrow might already have set a career-high with eight goals scored and Kevin Labanc is on pace to do the same, but even that improvement hasn't been as considerable as necessary. Furthermore, none of the prospects the team had hoped would explode on the scene actually have, whether it be Antti Suomela, Sasha Chmelevski or Dylan Gambrell. 21-year-old defenseman Mario Ferraro has been the one major bright spot, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the Sharks.

San Jose entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the league and knew it would need some of its younger players to step up. They haven't, and while that already has negatively impacted the franchise's present, it could continue to moving forward if some players don't emerge.

Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

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Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

If you ever wanted to buy Joe Thornton or Brent Burns a beer, you'd better hope none of their NHL colleagues are around. 

In The Athletic's annual player poll, 12 percent of 392 NHL players who participated said Joe Thornton is the player they'd most want to drink a beer with, just behind Alex Ovechkin (14 percent) and Sidney Crosby (12 percent). Defenseman Brent Burns, with 5 percent of the vote, finished fifth, while fellow Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson also received votes. 

Why Thornton? 

"He's a legend," a Pacific Division player told The Athletic.

Only Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau has played more NHL games (1,703) than Thornton (1,616), and Thornton, Marleau and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara are the only remaining NHLers who debuted in the 20th century. The Athletic found that the average NHL player entering this season was around 27 years old, meaning the average player was about five years old when Thornton debuted in 1997. 

In this case, a good chunk of the league does want to meet one of their heroes, but Thornton's personality can't hurt, either. After all, he once signed a contract extension on a lawnmower, plays Risk in his downtime and famously posed in the buff alongside Burns for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue" in 2017.  

“He’d have good stories and he seems like a fun guy," an Atlantic Division player told The Athletic. 

[RELATED: Is Wilson's GM job in serious jeopardy? Brodie answers in latest Sharks mailbag]

Thornton, 40, has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 60 games during his 22nd NHL season. 

If he returns for a 23rd, it's easy to imagine him and Burns on this list again next year.