Sharks offseason questions: What's next for Erik Karlsson, blue line?


Sharks offseason questions: What's next for Erik Karlsson, blue line?

SAN JOSE - At the start of the 2018-19 regular season, all eyes were on the Sharks' defense after the team acquired Erik Karlsson and gave themselves one of the most dangerous-looking blue lines in the league.

With San Jose's offseason underway, the focus yet again is on the Sharks' d-corps and the decisions that could change how it looks next season -- and those changes aren't just hinging on whether Karlsson stays in San Jose for another season.

For starters, Karlsson isn't the only Sharks' d-man hitting free agency. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed, who penciled into the lineup at various times this season when Karlsson was injured, are both without new contracts ahead of July 1. Neither one is guaranteed to come back, although Heed's chances of staying in teal seem a bit higher.

Even though Ryan, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, saw more playing time during the playoffs than pending unrestricted free agent Heed did, it never seemed like Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was completely satisfied with what he saw from No. 47. While the Sharks benefitted from having both players down the stretch when the blue line got banged up, it seems likely San Jose will give Barracuda blueliner Jacob Middleton a longer look at the NHL level in place of Ryan. 

Keep in mind, the Sharks also are hoping to have Radim Simek back healthy at the start of the next season. The Czech d-man has already made huge strides in recovering from a devastating knee injury that cut his impressive rookie campaign short.

According to teammate and fellow countryman Tomas Hertl, Simek has been "working really hard" and "will for sure be ready for next year." It's fair to say San Jose's defense looked its best when both Simek and Karlsson were in the lineup healthy. With Simek back alongside Norris Trophy hopeful Brent Burns next season, the Sharks' d-corps will get an instant boost.

Speaking of Burns, San Jose's blue line is already primed to look a little different next season now that Bob Boughner is rejoining the coaching staff. Boughner did great work with San Jose's blue line before taking the head coaching job with the Florida Panthers, including working No. 88 during this Norris-winning campaign. Just imagine the impact he could have on a defense with both Burns and Karlsson in the mix -- if Karlsson does, in fact, stay in the South Bay.

This brings us back to Karlsson, who is still the big player to watch. When addressing the media on locker cleanout day, Karlsson didn't give any indication as to whether he wanted to stay in San Jose or go somewhere else. Despite posting a tweet to Sharks' fans that looked as though he may have been saying farewell, SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman reported just a week later that Karlsson is strongly considering whether he wants to remain in San Jose.

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Although his 2018-19 campaign was hampered with injuries, Karlsson clearly was a good fit on the Sharks' blue line when he was healthy, tallying 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) through the regular season and 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) through the playoffs. 

Suffice to say even after Karlsson makes a decision, San Jose's blue line will remain an entity to watch as we get closer to the opening of free agency.

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Why Peter DeBoer is confident Sharks can fill Joe Pavelski's scoring void

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with 38 goals last season. That's 38 goals that now reside with the Dallas Stars.

It's not as if San Jose lacked for goal scoring this past year, having ranked second in the league with an average of 3.52 goals per game during the regular season. However, no Sharks player found the back of the net more often than Pavelski, meaning that if the Sharks are going to maintain or even surpass that offensive output next season, they're going to have to find those 38 goals elsewhere.

San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer touched on that very subject in a recent interview with's Mike Zeisberger, in which he insisted that Pavelski's character will be tougher to replace than his goal-scoring.

"Look, it's hard to replace Pav's 38 goals," DeBoer conceded. "We scored a lot of goals last year and if we score a little bit less I don't think it will kill us. At least I hope it doesn't. The goals are one thing, but it's the leadership, the presence, the message that he would convey in the dressing room when times were tough. Those are the things that are harder to replace than his goals."

Part of the reason DeBoer is confident his team can adequately fill Pavelski's scoring void is due to the continued progression he's expecting from young players already on the roster.

"We've got to continue to hope that guys like Timo Meier can build on the season he had last year," DeBoer said. "Kevin Labanc too. I think Doug [Wilson] has done a great job of setting us up with young players in the pipeline we feel can create some offense."

Additionally, after Erik Karlsson was banged up throughout much of his debut season with the Sharks, DeBoer is hopeful the former Norris Trophy winner can have an even greater offensive impact moving forward after signing an eight-year contract in the offseason.

"When we had the opportunity to acquire Erik Karlsson last summer there was no hesitation in anyone's opinion to go forward on the possibility of doing that," DeBoer insisted. "Those are generational-type players and they rarely become available, if at all. It was a no-brainer to trade for him and it was a no-brainer to sign him. 

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic power play]

"He's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going forward," DeBoer continued. "You take out Pavelski but you add Karlsson and some young guys. … The game might change in how we create and how we do things but I think he's going to have a big impact. The two months he was healthy he controlled a lot of the games we played. We just need to get him healthy so he can have a full healthy year to get into rhythm."

The Sharks are going to feel Pavelski's departure in more ways than one. Yes, his 355 goals rank second all-time in franchise history, but he brought so much more to the table than simply the ability to put the biscuit in the basket. However, if Karlsson, Meier, Labanc and others can combine to fill his resulting scoring void, Pavelski's absence won't be nearly as noticeable.

Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday


Red Wings hilariously troll Logan Couture on Pavel Datsyuk's birthday

Pavel Datsyuk's birthday might not be a day that Sharks center Logan Couture circles on his calendar every year, but he was reminded Saturday.

In honor of "The Magic Man" turning 41, the Detroit Red Wings' Twitter account posted a GIF of Couture falling victim to Datsyukian dangle. Couture, understandably, was none too pleased. 

To make matters worse -- or at least more ironic -- for Couture, the GIF in question came on his 24th birthday. The Sharks hosted Datsyuk's Red Wings on March 28, 2013, back in Detroit's last season in the Western Conference and just two years after San Jose eliminated the Winged Wheel in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight season.

The Red Wings were in the Western Conference for the first four years of Couture's career, and he played more regular-season and playoff games against Detroit (24) during that span than any team other than the Los Angeles Kings (30). Couture credited those matchups for helping him develop in a piece for The Players' Tribune in 2015, and called Datsyuk's deke "an example that my teammates will probably never let me live down." 

"Thankfully, I’m far from the only one to be victimized by Pavel," Couture wrote at the time. "He has the best hands in the NHL. One little trick he likes to do is stick-handle between a player’s tripod — between their feet and stick. He’ll even use the net as a prop to make you look dumb."

[RELATED: Why DeBoer credits Thornton for Sharks' historic Game 7 power play]

Datsyuk retired from the NHL three years ago to return to his native Russia, and signed with hometown Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL this summer. There were rumors of him considering an NHL return, but Couture won't have to worry about Datsyuk's stickhandling much moving forward. 

Well, at least until the next time someone digs up the clip.