What Erik Karlsson re-signing could mean for Sharks' defense next season

What Erik Karlsson re-signing could mean for Sharks' defense next season

The San Jose Sharks entered their offseason with a lot of questions about their future lineup. But they got a big look-in at next season now that Erik Karlsson officially is staying in Silicon Valley on an eight-year contract.

Given that Karlsson will enter his second year with the Sharks and already is accustomed to the team, there's potential for him to build on what he did last season -- and for San Jose's blue line to reach another level.

Although Karlsson was injured for a chunk of the 2018-19 campaign, his impact on Team Teal's entire game plan was evident. After taking the first two months of the season to get acclimated to his new team, Karlsson became a pivotal piece of San Jose's offensive assault, tallying 25 points (one goal, 24 assists) and a plus-16 rating between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8. Despite scoring only one goal during that stretch, Karlsson's ability to set up teammates from back in San Jose's defensive zone helped the Sharks dominate their opponents and register a 10-3-1 record during that span.

There's even more room for Karlsson's blue-line role to grow with Bob Boughner's return to San Jose's coaching staff. As Sharks fans know quite well, Boughner had a positive influence on the team when he was part of the staff just a few years back, namely in helping Brent Burns reach Norris Trophy-worthy potential.

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson expanded on the potential for a successful Karlsson-Boughner relationship when he spoke to the media Monday, just after Karlsson's contract was made official.

"I talked to Bob Boughner this morning," Wilson said. "When he heard the news [about Karlsson's contract] he called me. Both he and Pete [DeBoer, the Sharks' coach] are extremely excited. They both said Erik Karlsson makes them better coaches."

Of course, some of these high expectations for next season also are dependent on Karlsson's health when next season starts. He underwent groin surgery on May 31, and it's a procedure that the University of Michigan deems as having a three-week recovery time and a six-week window before strenuous exercise is recommended.

When asked about his health Monday, Karlsson didn't have an exact timeline for when he would start skating over the summer, but he sounded optimistic that he'll be ready when the season opens in October.

"I'm in that process now, and it's going to take all summer long," he said about his rehabilitation. "I'm going to do everything I can and be as good as I can [be] for when the season starts. So far, no problem."

Keep in mind that signing Karlsson to an eight-year contract doesn't mean San Jose's blue line is a finished product. Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek likely will be staples in the Sharks' D-corps next season. However, Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, who filled in for an injured Karlsson at different points during the season, appear headed for free agency in less than a month.

[RELATED: What Sharks' re-signing of EK65 means moving forward]

Plus, both Justin Braun and Karlsson's D-partner, Brenden Dillon, are coming up on the final years of their respective contracts, and could be used in offseason trades. Add NHL hopefuls from the Barracuda, and it's clear San Jose's defense is in for changes.

At least with Karlsson for sure playing in teal next season, there's already potential for the Sharks' blue line to be even better.

Sharks mailbag: Is GM Doug Wilson's job in jeopardy due to poor play?

Sharks mailbag: Is GM Doug Wilson's job in jeopardy due to poor play?

The Sharks are in a precarious position.

San Jose has played 50 games and needs about 50 points in their final 32 tilts to have any chance at the playoffs. It’s becoming a difficult scenario to envision.

You gave me some pointed questions via Twitter & Instagram, and here are the best responses:

Instagram @hockeysteez: Is Doug Wilson’s job in jeopardy?

I guess we’re jumping right into the deep end of the pool? I don’t think many feel terrific right now as it relates to job security. Wilson included. At the same time, I’m a huge proponent of giving him the absolute opportunity to re-orchestrate the franchise.

From about 2015 to 2019, he was on a roll of surprise acquisitions and team-friendly extensions. He wheeled some big pieces into place, and if there is more heavy lifting required during the next 6-8 months before next season begins: I’d like to see Wilson’s experience at the helm to make it happen. I have zero reservations about that as a first option.

Twitter @tk408: Who are they considering for permanent coach?

Placing the interim tag on Bob Boughner was certainly strategic, but I also believe he’ll definitely be at least considered for a long-term solution after this season concludes. The cards were stacked against anyone taking over under the circumstances Boughner did on Dec. 11. At the same time, no “honeymoon period” occurred, and the team has just six wins in five weeks since the coaching change.

The next three months are a showcase for Boughner, just as it is for so many players. Some big name bench-bosses will likely be available this summer, including Mike Babcock and Peter Laviolette. They would come with a stiff price, and likely a significantly different edge than Boughner, Pete DeBoer, or even Todd McLellan did.

Instagram @ace_portraits: Would trying to find a new goalie or starting Aaron dell at the beginning of the year have made a difference in our season?

In short: no. Team defense has been an Achilles heel to a varying degree in San Jose all season. Complicating the matter: Martin Jones and Aaron Dell did not have great starts to the campaign, either. We’ve clearly seen Dell emerge to prominence and Jones decline in the last six weeks, but to say either one (or neither) could have drastically impacted the journey is a stretch.  

Twitter @apadilla24: Even though there’s been rumors saying that “core” players will not be traded do you see a big shake up like trade happening?

Only because the Sharks face tight spots in their struggles, and the salary cap, logistics alone would suggest there has to be at least one “wow-factor” maneuver to create more personnel options. “Shake-ups” can occur at different magnitudes, and while it’s probably accurate that small-level changes probably won’t manifest the desired effect, wholesale changes probably aren’t the wisest right now either.

Twitter @talking7: Does there seem to be a lack of team chemistry with the Sharks?

The inconsistency of results this season probably confirms that. It’s an interesting dynamic where, on paper the roster is littered with proven talent, and experience, and productivity. Nobody expected this kind of storyline back in September, and rightfully so. I’m not suggesting there are personal issues here, only the ability to thrive together on the ice. San Jose appears to have all the ingredients to cook, but sometimes the main courses just haven’t come out right.

Twitter @srosenthal13: Is it time to start cycling up the guys from the Barracuda to see who looks good?

Unfortunately the Barracuda are uncharacteristically struggling this season too. And one the worst things that can happen for an emerging hockey player is premature exposure to the NHL. So long as San Jose doesn’t face too many injuries, the only “right time” to bring up AHL players is when they are truly ready … not just for experimentation or evaluation purposes.

[RELATED: How faceoffs plagued Sharks on road trip]

Twitter @WaffleHater22: Do we trade Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton so they can have a chance to hold the Cup?

This is a doozy. We were enthralled by the storybook return of Patrick Marleau. And inspired by the resilience of Joe Thornton, after overcoming two knee injuries that easily could have ended his career. Saying goodbye under present terms would be difficult, but maybe keeping them would be selfish. If Marleau or Thornton were desired by a Stanley Cup contender and were agreeable to the transaction … then I’d only see it as a proper professional courtesy by San Jose. snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

USATSI snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. and International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward.