Erik Karlsson's offensive improvement comes at perfect time for Sharks

Erik Karlsson's offensive improvement comes at perfect time for Sharks

Erik Karlsson is in the middle of his best offensive stretch with the Sharks. The defenseman extended the longest point streak of his San Jose career (so far) to five games with an assist in Sunday's win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

But Karlsson's strong production actually dates back a bit further.

His assist Sunday was his 15th point since Nov. 13, the night he ended a seven-game pointless streak. Those 15 points in a litte over a month is good for third-most on the Sharks, and third-most among all NHL defensemen, entering Monday.

Fifteen points (two goals, 13 assists) in 16 games isn’t surprising for someone who averaged 0.83 per game entering this season, but is far more than the mere seven Karlsson scored in his first 18 games in Teal. 

So what exactly is behind his offensive turnaround? You can point to regression to the mean, but it’s arguably even simpler than that: Karlsson just did what he does best. 

Let's get luck out of the way first, though. Karlsson has been luckier in his last 16 games than his first 18. The chart below notes the Sharks’ shooting percentages with Karlsson in 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 situations during each stretch, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Situation First 18 Games Last 16 Games
5v5 6.15% 8.21%
5v4 10.87% 19.57%

The power-play increase in particular is eye-popping, but neither of those percentages alone explain his improvement. Karlsson’s underlying numbers, however, fill in a lot of gaps. 

Karlsson has been a much more prolific shooter over his last 16 games. He's scored twice on the power play, and upped his shot/attempt rates at even strength -- as the table below shows.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Stat First 18 Last 16
5v5 iCF/60 19.12 19.66
5v5 iFF/60 11.11 13.51
5v5 iSF/60 7.1 10.03
5v4 iCF/60 22.62 27.95
5v4 iFF/60 11.31 26.62
5v4 iSF/60 8.22 13.31

Karlsson has not only shot more over the last month, but he's also gotten more shots through. Nearly 75 percent of his shot attempts across all situations in the last 16 games were unblocked, compared to only 55 percent in his first 18 games. 

That has made a big difference on the power play, and should eventually pay dividends at even strength. On the season, Karlsson is generating 5-on-5 scoring chances at the fourth-highest rate of his career. Given his shot rate over the last 16 games would be the highest of his career, his first 5-on-5 goal may not be far away.

[RELATED: What we learned in Sharks' comeback win over Blackhawks]

As Karlsson gets more shots on net, so have the Sharks when he's been on the ice -- especially at even strength. Although San Jose has attempted about three fewer shots per hour when Karlsson played 5-on-5 in the last 16 games compared to the first 18, nearly four-and-a-half more were on frame. The Sharks have also generated an additional three-and-a-half scoring chances per hour in this timeframe. 

Relative to when he's been off the ice in 5-on-5 situations, Karlsson’s recent impact has been particularly evident. 

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Stat First 18 Last 16
5v5 CF/60 REL +4.6 +13.8
5v5 CF% REL +4.42 +9.3
5v5 FF/60 REL -0.03 +12.49
5v5 FF% REL 2.06 +8.99
5v5 SF/60 REL -0.01 +11.38
5v5 SF% REL -0.58 +8.14

Those are staggering numbers. In the last 16 games, the Sharks have attempted nearly 14 more shots with Karlsson on the ice than when he wasn't. They also controlled 58.1 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts, up from 48.8 percent. 

With Karlsson on the ice over the last month, the Sharks have swam. When he wasn't, they have treaded water.

In fact, over a full season, the relative 5-on-5 numbers from Karlsson’s last 16 games would be better than any of his previous nine seasons. That near-decade includes two seasons in which he won a Norris Trophy, two more when he was a runner-up, and four as a first-team All-Star. 

[RELATED: Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley traded to Peterborough Petes of OHL]

That impact has translated to goals for the Sharks, if not Karlsson himself. With Karlsson on the ice, the Sharks have scored an additional half-a-goal per hour of 5-on-5 play during that time. That was the sixth-highest rate on the team, despite Karlsson’s on-ice shooting percentage ranking only 13th. 

The sample size is much smaller, but it is still worth noting that the Sharks have attempted more 5-on-4 shots -- and more scoring chances -- with Karlsson on the ice in the last month. His impact hasn't been as pronounced as in 5-on-5 situations, but he's still been much better on the power play than in his first 18 games.  

Karlsson wasn’t bad in those first batch of games, but he wasn’t himself, either. The last month was a real step forward, as he's begun to look like the player who ratcheted the Sharks’ preseason expectations sky high. 

San Jose surely won’t mind if he sticks around.

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season


NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.