Erik Karlsson was about to be, without a doubt, the most talked-about player when NHL free agency opened July 1. But the San Jose Sharks did their part to stop that frenzy from happening, as they signed the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman to an eight-year contract Monday.
Many speculated that Karlsson would test the market since he and San Jose didn't reach any kind of agreement before the season ended last month. But Karlsson explained that being given the opportunity to focus on playing hockey during the season and not worrying about signing a contract factored in his final decision to stay in San Jose.
"[General manager] Doug Wilson, and [majority owner] Hasso Plattner as well, never pushed me to make a decision," Karlsson told reporters on a conference call Monday after the deal was finalized. "Throughout the year, they let me play hockey and get adjusted to everything. That meant the world to me."
Despite Karlsson having the season to get settled in San Jose, the rumor mill still churned with whispers that the defenseman wanted to sign with an East Coast team. There was talk Karlsson's wife, Melinda, was homesick and that it was more likely he'd choose a team closer to her native Ottawa.
But Karlsson said he never came close enough to the free agency process to consider any other team than the Sharks.
"My focus since I got traded was the San Jose Sharks, and they were my No. 1 priority after the season," he said. "Spending the full season here and really getting a look [at] how everything works from the organization and the entire Bay Area, I think, was a key to everything.
"San Jose knew from the beginning that was something I wanted to do for myself before making any ultimate decision. Ever since my wife and I arrived here, it's been nothing but good."
Wilson added that getting to know the Karlssons over the course of the season made the contract process better.
"I think the whole process was based on transparency and openness," Wilson said. "I think what I truly respect, and I can't say enough about both Erik and Mel, was that they shared with us upfront what the process was going to be and how they wanted it to go, and we agreed with that. They needed time to get to know us, and we wanted to get to know them. But the fact that they also made this decision and shared with us they would make this decision way ahead of July 1 means the world to us."
Karlsson, who played for a new team for the first time in his NHL career last season after being traded by the Ottawa Senators, added that his Sharks teammates played a role in his final decision.
"Everybody has shown it's a quality place to play for, everything from the coaches and especially my teammates," he said. "Getting to know them over the course of the whole year and seeing how dedicated they are to winning a Cup and wanting to be better at all times."
San Jose still has a long list of pending free agents to tend to as July 1 approaches. But, at the very least, the Sharks were able to sign one of their most important pending agents to a deal to his liking.
"I feel like this the place where I want to be," Karlsson said. "This was a big decision for me, and at the end of the day, I know this is the best decision for me and my family."