How Erik Karlsson will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

How Erik Karlsson will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void this season

Editor's note: The Sharks open training camp later this week, looking to replace nearly 60 regular-season goals from departed forwards Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Before camp officially begins, NBC Sports California is examining the players who will help San Jose fill that goal-scoring void. We conclude with defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

Excluding Erik Karlsson's rookie season, he scored at least twice as many goals in every other season of his career than he did last year.

That's right. Karlsson's three goals last season were a career-low, and seven-times fewer than his career-high. Granted, he was limited to 53 regular-season games due to injury, but when you consider his next-lowest total outside of his rookie year -- six goals in 2012-13 -- was tallied over just 17 games, it becomes increasingly obvious why Karlsson should be expected to find the back of the net more often in the season ahead.

Karlsson scored on 1.8 percent of his shots last season, by far the lowest shot percentage of his accomplished career. Prior to last season, he had never posted a shot percentage lower than the 4.5 percent of shots he scored on during his rookie season. Even with the extreme downturn last season, Karlsson has a career shot percentage of 6.4 percent, which suggests he was rather unlucky in his first season in San Jose.

Speaking of it being his first season, that's another reason why Karlsson can be counted on to provide more offense moving forward. He arrived via trade the day before training camp began, and it was readily apparent that it took some time to get acquainted with his new teammates and defensive partners. As soon as he did -- it took about two months -- the Sharks reeled off their best stretch of the entire year, winning 16 of 21 games from Dec. 2 to Jan. 15 -- a 133-point season-long pace. For reference, Tampa Bay posted the fourth-highest point total (128) in NHL history last year.

Karlsson injured his groin the next day, and aside from an appearance in the All-Star game -- didn't play for an entire month. He then returned for a six-game stretch in late February before sitting out the remainder of the regular season, minus the season finale. His groin reared its ugly head again the Western Conference final against St. Louis, limiting him severely at times and forcing him to miss Game 6, which proved to be the final game of the Sharks' season. 

Karlsson underwent groin surgery at the end of May, and recently said the injury "feels like it's back to normal." He has since signed a lucrative eight-year contract that will keep him in San Jose likely for the duration of his career. Some pundits were surprised he got the contract that he did, but assuming he's healthy, there's no question Karlsson is worth it.

Now entering his second season with the Sharks, some critical members from his first are nowhere to be found in the locker room. Pavelski, Nyquist and Donskoi departed in free agency, taking with them more than 20 percent of San Jose's goal total from last season, and some crucial playmakers at that. It will be a team effort to replace their production, but few if any players on the roster can inch close to Karlsson's talent level. He was already a fixture on the power play, and it would not be shocking whatsoever to see him take on an even larger role with the man-advantage, particularly with Pavelski now elsewhere.

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Karlsson didn't fall off the map last season -- he was injured, plain and simple. Now healthy and with a year of familiarity under his belt, Karlsson is certainly capable of providing the Sharks with more of what they need -- goals.

Players who will help Sharks fill goal-scoring void in 2019-20

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How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

How Sharks can benefit from Erik Karlsson injury at NHL trade deadline

The Sharks undoubtedly would prefer if both players were healthy, but San Jose can take advantage of Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson's season-ending injuries. 

Hertl already is on long-term injured reserve after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee last month, and Karlsson should soon join him after breaking his thumb. That puts the Sharks in a unique position heading into the trade deadline, as the fine folks at Cap Friendly observed Saturday. 

The Sharks were 11 points back of the Western Conference's final wild-card spot as of this writing, with four teams between them and the Arizona Coyotes. San Jose also doesn't own a 2020 first-round pick as a condition of the Erik Karlsson trade, and its prospect pool is considered to be one of the weakest in the NHL. It would make a lot of sense, then, for the Sharks to take on -- or retain -- salary in exchange for prospects and/or picks. 

There are a host of playoff contenders lacking salary-cap space, as Cap Friendly noted. The Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames all currently have fewer than $3 million in space, per Cap Friendly. Trading with a Pacific Division rival might prove difficult, but Sharks general manager Doug Wilson should be able to field calls from the likes of the Florida Panthers ($141,250 in current space), Philadelphia Flyers ($2.08 million), Washington Capitals ($2.45 million), Dallas Stars ($2.93 million), Boston Bruins ($3.12 million) and Pittsburgh Penguins ($3.51 million), among others. 

Finding a contract is another matter entirely. The Stars could trade injured center Martin Hanzal, but he already is on LTIR. It's difficult to envision the Panthers trading pending free-agent winger Mike Hoffman or the Capitals dealing soon-to-be free-agent goalie Braden Holtby for salary relief, let alone when you consider both players' trade protection (and Hoffman's history with Erik Karlsson).

The Bruins would love to trade David Backes, but he won't become a free agent until 2022 and can't be placed on LTIR after Bruins general manager Don Sweeney admitted Backes was "fit and able to play" after being waived. Wilson said he wants the Sharks to contend in 2021, and they can't afford to have another $5 million against the cap considering how many players have signed long-term contracts in the last few years. 

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Retaining salary seems to be a likelier option. The Sharks' pending free agents all have manageable contracts, but defenseman Brenden Dillon -- rumored to be one of the top blue liners available -- could be more appealing if teams aren't taking on all $3.275 million of his salary-cap hit. 

The trade deadline now is just over a week away, and the Sharks probably won't be buyers as a result of Hertl and Karlsson's injuries. They'll still be in an advantageous position, however, and Wilson has a chance to start re-stocking San Jose's pool of prospects and draft picks. 

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks' Erik Karlsson to undergo season-ending thumb surgery Monday

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson will undergo season-ending thumb surgery on Monday in Los Angeles, he told reporters Sunday. 

Dr. Steven Shin will operate on Karlsson's broken thumb. Shin also operated on Warriors star Steph Curry and New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees in the past. 

Karlsson broke his thumb Friday in the Sharks' 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair first reported the news Saturday. It was later confirmed by the team. 

The 29-year-old told reporters Sunday that he injured his thumb when he was hit with a slap shot, not from falling over teammate Joe Thornton. He said the initial X-rays didn't show anything complicated. 

[RELATED: Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth]

Karlsson has scored 40 points -- six goals, 34 assists -- this season in 56 games. His 5.0 shooting percentage is his best since the 2016-17 season, but Karlsson's minus-15 plus-minus is his the third-worst of his 11-year career.

The Sharks re-signed Karlsson to a massive eight-year, $92 million contract last June. Since acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators before last season, Karlsson has scored 85 points -- nine goals, 76 assists -- in 109 regular-season games.