Sharks

NHL rumors: Sharks' Erik Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers

NHL rumors: Sharks' Erik Karlsson expected to be pursued by Rangers

Erik Karlsson was not on the ice for the final game of the San Jose Sharks' season.

As a pending unrestricted free agent, there's a decent chance he won't participate in their next game, either.

As soon as the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Tuesday night, their offseason began. And what an important offseason it will be.

San Jose has numerous players destined to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, including Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but arguably none bigger than Karlsson, whom the Sharks acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators just prior to the start of the season.

As one of the very best defensemen in the NHL, Karlsson will have no shortage of suitors around the league. The Sharks will certainly be considered among the favorites to retain his services and sign him to a long-term contract, but they won't be alone.

In fact, ESPN reported on Tuesday that the New York Rangers could be a major factor.

"Scuttlebutt around the organization is that (Karlsson) likes the Sharks and the Bay Area," ESPN's Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters wrote following San Jose's Game 6 loss, "yet there has always been speculation that he could return back east -- the loudest chatter during the playoffs was a potential match with old friend Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Needless to say, the 28-year-old remains the elite of the elite when he's healthy, and would be a foundational asset for the Sharks. But after the playoffs, his health can't be trusted or assumed."

As evidenced in the end, Karlsson's health was an issue all throughout the season.

"Really, we had him healthy for six weeks and dialed in," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters following the defeat.

Still, those six weeks were awfully impressive, and even at less than 100 percent, Karlsson was arguably the Sharks' best player when he was on the ice in the playoffs, at least before aggravating whatever kept him out of Game 6. There's no denying his ability, and even with the injury history, he's the kind of talent any team would love to have on their roster.

[RELATED: Sharks expecting offseason of change after falling short]

The playoff run can't make the Sharks more confident in Karlsson's ability to stay healthy. But it proved enough that they can't afford to let him get away, regardless of how costly he is certain to be.

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Sharks' Erik Karlsson ranked No. 24 player in league by NHL Network

Erik Karlsson is arguably the best player on the Sharks. According to NHL Network, San Jose's defenseman is the 24th-best player in the league.

In counting down the best players in the current NHL, the league's network placed Karlsson in between 25th-ranked David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and 23rd-rank Mark Giordano, the Flames' reigning Norris Trophy winner.

"We know that he can put the puck just about anywhere, he can skate himself out of trouble, he can pass himself out of trouble, he can do just about anything," NHL Network's Brian Lawton said of Karlsson. "For a defenseman in today's game that played on one leg basically last year … he did have 16 points in 19 playoff games and it wasn't quite enough, but it was pretty darn heroic if you ask me."

Karlsson totaled 45 points in 53 regular-season games with the Sharks after arriving in San Jose at the start of training camp last year. The Sharks had their best stretch of the season once he found his groove in early December, and if not for a troublesome groin injury, there's no telling how far San Jose could have gone.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner still managed to appear in the All-Star Game, and signed a lucrative eight-year extension with San Jose at the start of free agency. He tallied at least 62 points in each of the previous five seasons, and his 563 points since making his NHL debut are the most among all NHL defenseman, ahead of fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (532).

[RELATED: Listen to Jumbo Joe mic'd up at a recent Sharks practice]

Karlsson will be an alternate captain in his second season with the franchise, and one would naturally expect him to benefit from having played a year in the system. He ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85) last year, and with the departures San Jose suffered in free agency, it wouldn't be surprising to see that rate increase in the season ahead, particularly considering Karlsson says he feels "back to normal" after offseason surgery to address the injury that hampered him a year ago.

Assuming Karlsson stays healthy this coming season, you can expect him to be ranked even higher a year from now.

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Mic'd-up Joe Thornton's youthful energy on display at Sharks practice

Whether or not Joe Thornton is a national treasure is debatable, but he's certainly a regional one.

The future Hall of Famer was mic'd up at a recent Sharks' practice, and he put that quality on display. The 40-year-old didn't appear as if his age has caught up to him, as he was quite talkative and involved throughout.

Just watch for yourself:

Whether it was chasing on the forecheck or missing an empty net, the eldest member of the Sharks looked anything but. Enjoying his first healthy offseason in recent memory, Thornton's energy is certainly palpable, and that bodes well for the Sharks as they attempt to get back to the playoffs for the 20th time in the last 22 seasons.

Thornton signed a one-year contract at the beginning of the month to return to the Sharks for his 15th season in San Jose. He'll be one of four alternate captains on the team, after Logan Couture was named the 10th full-time captain in franchise history, taking over for the departed Joe Pavelski.

With Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist leaving in free agency during the offseason, the Sharks are counting on several prospects to take a step forward this coming season -- and on Thornton to help them succeed at the NHL level. While line pairings are still in flux, it wouldn't be shocking whatsoever to see Thornton paired with one of those prospects on his wing.

[RELATED: Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as season nears]

Based on Thornton's mic'd up session, he'll be talking that prospects' ear off all game long.