Sharks

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.

What Sharks can learn from response to last time missing NHL postseason

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AP

What Sharks can learn from response to last time missing NHL postseason

The Sharks we so bad in 2019-20 that they couldn’t even qualify for an expanded 24-team NHL playoff field designed to wrap a campaign paused by the coronavirus pandemic.

They’ll be watching playoff hockey from home for just the second time in 16 seasons, an outlier outcome for a team that has been as steadily successful as any in professional sports.

The Sharks fell flat during a disastrous season where they finished dead freaking last in the Pacific Division and never got off the canvas after a brutal start. A team full of veteran stars finds itself in an odd position heading into a prolonged offseason, trying to find a way to rebound quickly from a disappointing campaign.

Many top players were around the last time the Sharks missed the postseason, and while the situations are not identical, there are lessons to be gleaned from the experience and their previous response to disappointment.

The Sharks reached different depths in 2019-20. They were the Western Conference’s worst team despite a roster full of heavyweights, with injuries to key players and some internal discord preventing the Sharks from reaching vast potential. The letdown also led to Peter DeBoers in-season firing and a coaching search now underway. 

They finished above .500 in a 2014-15 season where they didn’t miss the postseason by much. The Sharks went 3-10 in the month of February, which sank their playoff chances and prompted the team and head coach Todd McLellan to mutually part ways.

“I think a lot of guys went home during that summer determined to be in better shape and add some bite to their game,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said last week during a video conference with local reporters. “[Sharks GM Doug Wilson] challenged a lot of us to step up our games and improve as players. We wanted to come into the next year and prove that we were still a good team here in San Jose. I believe that summer a lot of people wrote us off and said the window was closed, that the team was done and to stick a fork in them.”

The Sharks will surely see similar predictions this offseason, just as they did five year ago, and it could prove to a motivating factor this time around.

“I think that lit a fire in a lot of us, and I think we’ll have a similar response this year,” Couture said. “There are going people writing those same articles. There are going to be fans thinking the same things. The only way that can change is if we make it change and show everyone we’re still a good team.

“We still have the pieces, in my mind, to compete. That’s all we can do, just work as hard as we can this summer and be as prepared as we can heading into the next training camp. I don’t think our camp this year was up to par, so we need to have a better one and get off to a good start, because we didn’t have a good one this year.”

[RELATED: Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson hasn’t been in San Jose long, but experienced disappointing seasons with the Ottawa Senators. He missed the playoffs four times with that club and teams he was on – he was traded after missing the 2017-18 postseason -- responded to each setback with a playoff berth the following season.

“Every time you have a letdown, when you don’t feel that you performed up to the standards that you would like, it gets to everybody on the team and within the organization,” Karlsson said. “You have to make sure you come into the next year as prepared as possible to avoid having a bad situation repeat itself. That type of response shows a lot of character, and we have a lot of high-character guys on this team. I feel like, ever since we found out our season was ending, everyone has committed to coming back stronger next year.”

[RELATED: Logan Couture believes Sharks' ambition must be high in long offseason]

The Sharks came back super strong after missing the 2014-15 playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup finals the following season. It will take some discipline and consistency to find similar form after a down year, with possibly eight months between their last game and the start of next season, which should be delayed due to a prolonged hiatus due to the ongoing public health crisis.

“Even not playing now, you’re going to have to train for seven or eight months. That sucks,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “It’s not fun. It’s tough work to get your body and mind ready for a year and we have to figure out how to do that for double, triple the time. Guys train as hard as they can and thank the gods it’s only two and a half months away from the game. It’s going to be difficult.”

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

The Sharks aren’t used to losing. Say what you want about the team’s inability to complete a NHL playoff run and hoist a Stanley Cup, but there’s no doubt this team has been an excellent regular-season unit and a perennial contender for more than two decades.

The Sharks last finished the regular season below .500 during 2002-03 season, going on a 15-season run of winning hockey snapped this year. The Sharks were terrible despite plenty of star power, unable to improve on an awful start that got Peter DeBoer fired and left the team languishing in the Pacific Division cellar.

The Sharks didn’t handle it well.

Goalie Martin Jones was honest about that fact in an interview with SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman.

“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones said in a column published May 14. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”

Airing dirty laundry, even with a constructive spin, isn’t always welcome in the aftermath of a season gone awry. Jones’ teammates, however, had no issue confirming the fact the Sharks frayed a bit as losses started to mount.

“When you’re losing and things aren't going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.”

[RELATED: What Couture learned from first season as Sharks captain]

The Sharks were tested during a difficult campaign and they didn’t always pass, but the veteran leaders are determined to use it as a teachable moment to handle adversity better in the future.

“It’s easy for guys to be good guys if everything’s going well, but you don’t really grow from that,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You know what this feels like now. A lot of guys hadn’t been through a lot of that before. It’s not easy. Guys here know it’s hard. They have grown through a culture that has been very successful through a lot of work and a mental edge. It’s important not to lose that mental edge. It was not fun. There aren’t a lot of positives you can take from [season], other than not wanting to go back there. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing great about it.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t happy about the team’s response to adversity, but he didn’t consider it out of the ordinary or something that frayed relationships that could linger into future seasons. The Sharks’ goal is to contain a bad campaign and make it the outlier their history suggests it could be.

“When things don’t go your way individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions and looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson said. “Overthinking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make but something we all do in tough situations. That’s especially true when you don’t feel like you are doing enough or playing up to your own standards.

“Anything that happened this year was a normal reaction you would’ve gotten on any team in any sport. … I didn’t see anything alarming, and I don’t really judge the things that happened this year. You get to see a lot of different sides of people you hadn’t seen before, and you learn a lot about yourself. This year is something for each individual to learn from when looking at the situation and what they could do differently if a situation like this creeps up again.”

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