What Erik Karlsson contract with Sharks means for rest of offseason

What Erik Karlsson contract with Sharks means for rest of offseason

Doug Wilson checked off a major part of his summer to-do list Monday morning.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson signed an eight-year contract with the Sharks on Monday, two weeks before he could have hit unrestricted free agency. With Karlsson locked up for the foreseeable future, San Jose's general manager told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil that the deal provides a lot more certainty headed into a key stretch of the offseason. 

"All I can say is having got this piece done today certainly allows our next three weeks, or four weeks, to be a little bit more structured," Wilson told Brazil. "But, it would have been very difficult with this unknown piece going to July 1 and everything up in the air. It doesn't mean we don't have tough decisions, but this is a very, very big piece that makes us a better hockey team both today and long-term."

Many of those tough decisions center around the Sharks' remaining pending free agents. Captain Joe Pavelski can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, as can wingers Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. After posting career years, wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are set for restricted free agency. Joe Thornton, meanwhile, is pondering his playing future.

With Karlsson reportedly locked up for an annual salary-cap hit of $11.5 million as the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL/player in franchise history, Wilson has around $12.5 million in cap space to work with this offseason. That wouldn't appear to leave enough wiggle room for all of the Sharks' potential free agents, let alone most of them.

Wilson told Brazil that those choices are the cost of doing business in a salary-capped league. The Sharks have chosen to prioritize their blue line, with Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all under contract for at least the next six seasons, and the center position, as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture are locked up for nearly $14 million combined over the next three seasons. That foundation is what's most important to Wilson.

"Our job is to give ourselves the best chance to win every year," Wilson said. "And having said that, you've got to be strong in certain positions. I've never heard anybody say, 'we've got too much good pitching," for example. ... When you've got guys like Couture and Hertl and we've had the benefit of having one of the greatest in Jumbo, and then you've got three Norris-caliber defensemen, it allows you to do a lot of other things.

"You're always gonna have to have young players coming in. You're always gonna have to make choices and decisions, and it all is gonna have to fit in under the cap. At the same time, players have choices too and that's the journey that we're on right now and a cap system dictates that."

[RELATED: What Karlsson re-signing could mean for Sharks' D next season]

The 2019 NHL Draft begins Friday in Vancouver, and it has the potential to be a very busy weekend. Wilson reiterated to Brazil that he has noticed "more buzz" around the league than any other point during his 15-and-a-half years atop the Sharks front office. San Jose doesn't have a pick in either of the first two rounds, but it's possible Wilson begins to make some of the tough decisions that he alluded to.

But with Karlsson's contract resolved, it sounds like Wilson will be able to chart the Sharks' offseason course with greater clarity.

Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as regular season nears


Sharks' roster hopefuls still 'auditioning' as regular season nears

SAN JOSE - Yes, the Sharks have roster spots they need to fill. Nobody knows that better than Peter DeBoer.

So perhaps it was to be expected when the head coach said more than once after San Jose's first preseason game Tuesday night that he hasn't filled out his final roster for the Sharks' season-opener against the Vegas Golden Knights yet.

 "We're Game 1 into a tryout here," DeBoer said. "An audition. We're not handing out any jobs tonight."

You can't blame him for answering that way. He'd probably love it if everyone outside the team stopped trying to piece his roster together for him. 

Here's the thing: San Jose is just two games into the preseason and has rolled out two different lineups for each game. A roster for opening night will come together, but DeBoer hasn't settled on the exact pieces to that puzzle just yet.

Despite losing their first two preseason games, some of the Sharks' roster hopefuls have done some positive things. Jonny Brodzinski added an offensive punch in Tuesday's game against the Anaheim Ducks while Manuel Wiederer contributed two goals in Wednesday's game against the Calgary Flames. Ryan Merkley pitched in as a helper twice in his first preseason game while Joachim Blichfeld, Ivan Chekhovich and Lean Bergmann also have found the back of the net in the preseason.

Nevertheless, one preseason showing doesn't -- as DeBoer said -- guarantee anyone a starting job.

The Sharks are aware that replacing offensive depth left by the departures of Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi is a process. In addition to scoring big goals, San Jose also has to be able to sustain offense through a full 60 minutes on a nightly basis. Through the first two games of the preseason, the team has had some difficulty doing this.

"I think we need to sustain more O-zone pressure," Brodzinski observed after Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Ducks, a game where the Sharks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and then took their foot off the gas in the second stanza. "We didn't have a lot of it tonight. I felt like it was more of a neutral zone game. Then we played a little bit too much in our own zone. If we can play down there a lot more, we wouldn't be as tired coming into the late shifts there."

If the idea that San Jose hasn't filled out its roster just yet scares you, keep in mind -- neither preseason game has featured the Sharks' opening night roster. Heck, we haven't even seen Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson or Martin Jones suit up for a game yet. Many of the players who have played over the past two days will be starting the season playing for the Barracuda. 

Plus, even once the regular season gets underway, there still are going to be changes made to San Jose's roster as players move between the AHL and NHL in an effort to give the team the most dynamic lineup. Just think about how many times the lineup changed at the start of last season.

[RELATED: Sharks expecting Meier to step forward in wake of departures]

The Sharks have roughly a week and a half to get into fighting shape before opening night October 2, which includes four more preseason tune-ups that kick off on Saturday with a contest against the Golden Knights. It's very possible DeBoer will roll out a lineup consisting of a few more regular-season starters, along with a few players high on the list of opening night roster additions.

Just don't be surprised if Saturday's preseason game is just another step in the audition process for players on that list.

Sharks expecting Timo Meier to take step forward in wake of departures

Sharks expecting Timo Meier to take step forward in wake of departures

Individual progress of an NHL player should not always be measured in goals. 

Yet it’s hard to ignore Timo Meier’s production: 21 goals in his first full season, followed up by 30 last year. 

“He’s worked for everything he’s got,” Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said of Meier. “I think power forwards take a little bit longer. It’s a harder league for bigger guys playing that kind of game to establish themselves."

“His jump last year was incredible,” fellow forward Barclay Goodrow remarked. “He kind of turned into a whole new player, just more confident. He took some games over, shooting the puck and driving the net. Just things he does well at a better pace.” 

The Swiss-born winger has developed a full-fledged reputation for utilizing all six feet and 210 pounds he’s got. 

“I try to be a physical guy. Try to get in the areas where you might hurt, and try to score some dirty goals,” Meier said at training camp. “I want to get better, that’s always something I try to stay hungry on.” 

Timing plays a critical role in the development of a homegrown product like Meier. The Sharks were able to let him develop in the pipeline, and now he's thriving on the biggest stage. 

“He got there the right way,” DeBoer explained. “You’ve got a guy with a lot of confidence, we’ve added a couple minutes every year to his time on ice. He’s going to take another step this year with the guys that departed. We’re excited to see where he can go with it.” 

And that is the exciting question: Where can Meier take things this season? 

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

“I’m not a guy that wants to put out a number and say I have to score that many goals,” Meier admitted. “I just try to go out and be the best player I can for the team.”