Sharks

Sharks

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.