Marcus White

How Erik Karlsson contract impacts Sharks on ice, salary cap, at NHL Draft

How Erik Karlsson contract impacts Sharks on ice, salary cap, at NHL Draft

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson got his man.

Nine months after a trade that first brought him to San Jose, defenseman Erik Karlsson officially signed an eight-year contract with the team Monday morning, which TSN's Bob McKenzie and CapFriendly reported is worth $11.5 million annually. That would make the two-time Norris Trophy winner the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and San Jose's highest-paid player ever.

What does the deal mean for the Sharks? Let's take a look at Karlsson's contract and its impact in three key areas.

On the ice

By just about any metric, Karlsson is one of the NHL's best defenseman -- if not the best -- when healthy. No defenseman has more points (563) or won more Norris Trophies (two) as the league's best blue liner since the smooth-skating Swede made his debut a decade ago. Karlsson will help keep the Sharks' Stanley Cup window open over the next few years, and represent a key piece in one of the league's best defense groups.

The 29-year-old was limited to 53 regular-season games in 2018-19, missing 27 of those games after the turn of the calendar thanks to nagging groin injuries. Despite that, Karlsson still led all defensemen who played at least 750 5-on-5 minutes in corsi-for percentage, and finished no worse than 10th by the other major puck-possession measures among that group, according to Natural Stat Trick. He was also third among all defenseman in Evolving Hockey's goals above replacement (GAR) and wins above replacement (WAR) metrics after playing 27 and 13 fewer games, respectively, than the two blue liners who finished above him (John Carlson, Victor Hedman).

Karlsson's groin continued to bother him in the Stanley Cup playoffs, forcing him to play just 10:27 in Game 5 of the Western Conference final and miss Game 6 entirely after aggravating it in Game 4. Because of the groin issues, this marked the second straight season Karlsson played in fewer games than his last. Back in 2017, he missed the first five games of the Ottawa Senators' season after undergoing surgery on his left ankle, and missed 11 in total after skating in 77 games the previous season.

Karlson underwent groin surgery earlier this month, and told reporters on a conference call Monday that he expects to be ready for the start of the season.

"I'm in that process (of rehabbing) right now," Karlsson said. "It's gonna be all summer long. I'm gonna do everything I can to be as good as I possibly can for when the season starts. So far, no problems, and I don't expect this to be an issue starting next year.

"It's gonna be a lot of work, but it's work that I'm gonna be more than willing to put in and I've already started that. ... I'm gonna have a great summer ahead of me, and I'll be back in San Jose in no time."

Before 2017-18, Karlsson played in at least 75 games in six straight 82-game seasons. But he'll be 36 in the final year of his eight-year contract, and a defenseman that age (or older) has played in at least 75 games 21 times since 2013-14. Only five played in at least 60 games last season, and there were only seven in the league.

In a league that's getting younger every year, the Sharks are betting on Karlsson to be one of those exceptions. That's a risky proposition for any player, but Karlsson's on-ice track record speaks for itself.

Against the cap

Over the weekend, Sportsnet's Elliote Friedman reported that "several teams indicated they thought the cap might be closer to" $82 million in 2019-20 than the NHL's initial projected salary cap of $83 million. Let's go with the low end, and say next season's cap is $82 million. 

With Karlsson reportedly signing for around $11.5 million, San Jose would have about $12.5 million in salary-cap space, according to Cap Friendly. The Sharks have 16 players under contract, but quite a few free agents left to sign.

Forwards Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi can all become unrestricted free agents, while young wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are set to hit restricted free agency. Pavelski and Meier combined to score 68 goals last season, and Evolving Hockey's contract model pegs the pair to make a combined $13.5 million on their next contracts.

Those are just projections, and it's possible both players take some kind of a discount, but it does exemplify the cap crunch the Sharks face this summer. Wilson would not comment on the Sharks' negotiations with their pending free agents, but said that Karlsson re-signing doesn't necessarily rule anything else out.

"I don't think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything," Wilson said. "There's many ways to accomplish different things. ... You explore everything. It's a two-way street where everybody has choices and options, but all discussions are ongoing with all our UFAs and RFAs at this point, and will continue."

Beyond this summer and next season, Karlsson is now the sixth player Wilson has signed to a deal of at least six years since 2016. Before Brent Burns signed an eight-year extension in 2016, Wilson had signed just one player (Milan Michalek, 2007) to a contract lasting at least six years.

Karlsson, whose deal reportedly includes a no-movement clause, fellow defensemen Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, forwards Logan Couture and Evander Kane and goaltender Martin Jones all are now signed until at least 2024. All six will be in their early- to mid-30s by then, and would have to be protected in the upcoming expansion draft due to the trade protection in their deals.

With Meier first eligible for unrestricted free agency in four years and Tomas Hertl due to become a UFA in three, the Sharks likely will have a lot of money tied up in a core that's getting older in the coming years. A lot can -- and almost certainly will -- change before the end of Karlsson's contract, but Wilson will have to maintain flexibility in filling out the rest of the roster.

The draft is a key component of that.

[RELATED: Report: Karlsson's contract doesn't rule out Pavelski return]

At the draft

With Karlsson officially under contract, the trade that first brought him to San Jose is now complete. As a condition of him re-signing, the Sharks will send a 2021 second-round pick to Ottawa in addition to the 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 first-round pick and the four roster players traded to the Senators on the eve of training camp last September.

Including this week's draft in Vancouver, here's the Sharks' draft outlook over the next three seasons:

  • Four picks in 2019 (Third round, fifth round, sixth round and seventh round)
  • Four picks in 2020 (Second round, fourth round, and two in fifth round)
  • Six picks in 2021 (First round, second round, third round, fourth round, fifth round and sixth round)

The Sharks would have lost their 2021 first-round pick had they made the Stanley Cup Final, and that pick will be important as Wilson tries to surround Karlsson and Co. with developing, affordable talent. Wilson mentioned on his conference call with reporters that he thinks San Jose currently has prospects capable of pushing for roster spots, especially on the wing.

With just eight total picks over the next two seasons, Wilson said the Sharks will continue to be active in scouting and signing European free agents. This season, seven such players played in at least 25 games for San Jose, and continuing that will allow the Sharks to keep the organizational cupboard stocked and build a roster around Karlsson and the rest of their core.

NHL rumors: Erik Karlsson, Sharks working toward contract extension

NHL rumors: Erik Karlsson, Sharks working toward contract extension

The Stanley Cup has been lifted, and the NHL's offseason officially is underway for all 31 teams. Before free agency begins, though, the Sharks reportedly are looking to make a splash by re-signing defenseman Erik Karlsson.

The team and the two-time Norris Trophy winner still are discussing a contract extension, a league source told The Athletic's Kevin Kurz on Thursday.

Kurz wrote that the Sharks "are prepared to offer" Karlsson an eight-year extension in the range of Drew Doughty's $88 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings. With an $11 million salary-cap hit, Doughty currently is the NHL's highest-paid defenseman.

Kurz reported that Karlsson and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson met for dinner Wednesday night in Santa Clara. A Facebook user in a Sharks fan group posted a picture with Karlsson and Wilson from the restaurant, and it later surfaced on the Sharks' fan-run subreddit.

Image courtesy: Reddit (R/SanJoseSharks)

The Sharks first acquired Karlsson, the Senators' longtime captain, in a blockbuster trade that sent four players and up to two draft picks to Ottawa on the eve of training camp. Karlsson played 53 games in his first season in San Jose, missing two because of a December suspension and 27 from January onward because of two separate groin injuries. Despite all that missed time, he scored 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) and posted a 59.22 percent 5-on-5 corsi-for percentage -- the best puck-possession mark among defenseman who played at least 750 minutes this season.

Karlsson clearly was hobbled during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but he tied for second on San Jose with 16 postseason points (two goals, 14 assists). He didn't play in the Sharks' season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference final to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues after aggravating his groin in Game 4 and playing just 10:32 in Game 5.

The Sharks announced last week that Karlsson underwent successful groin surgery, and the defenseman was seen on crutches while attending Game 3 of the NBA Finals that same day. 

The 28-year-old defenseman has not played in 82 games in any of the last three regular seasons, and he also underwent surgery on his left foot after the 2017 postseason. That said, he still would be the best defenseman to hit unrestricted free agency if he and the Sharks cannot reach an agreement. Karlsson can interview with other teams beginning on June 23, but San Jose is the only one that can offer him an eight-year extension.

The latest Karlsson can sign such a deal is 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30, and he only would be able to sign a seven-year deal with a team -- including the Sharks -- beginning at noon ET the next day.

[RELATED: Inconsistent Sharks defense faces uncertain future]

The Sharks currently have just over $58 million in salary commitments for next season, giving them right around $25 million in cap space based on the cap's projected rise to $83 million for 2019-20. Karlsson is one of seven players who can become an unrestricted free agent, in a group that also includes wingers Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist and Joe Pavelski, as well as veteran center Joe Thornton.

Young wingers Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier likely are in line for raises as restricted free agents, giving Wilson plenty to think about as the offseason rolls along.

Women's World Cup: Team USA has new faces but same lofty expectations


Women's World Cup: Team USA has new faces but same lofty expectations

When their World Cup campaign kicks off Tuesday in Reims, France, the United States Women’s National Team will aim to do something it has never done: go back-to-back. 

The United States has lifted the trophy more than any other country (1991, 1999 and 2015), but Germany is the only nation in the history of the competition to win back-to-back titles (2003, 2007). In their last two title defenses, the Americans finished third. 

This time around, the USWNT certainly has the talent to repeat, with a host of returning faces and newcomers filling vital roles. They enter the tournament as favorites and will have no problem advancing to the group stage, but the team has some question marks that could be exploited as the herd thins in the Round of 16 and beyond. 

Can they win it all? Here is the answer to that question, and three others, before the tournament begins. 

Who’s back?

Of the 14 women who took the field as a starter or a substitute for the United States in the 2015 World Cup Final win over Japan in Vancouver, nine will be with the side in France. Manager Jill Ellis called up 61 different players over the last two-and-a-half years, per the Guardian, but the core of the team will be familiar to casual and hardcore fans alike. 

Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe give Ellis a formidable front three in the USWNT’s 4-3-3 formation. Morgan leads the line, but Heath’s dazzling dribbles and Rapinoe’s cracking crossing ability might pose even more problems for opponents. Julie Ertz no longer forms a steady center-back pairing with Becky Sauerbrunn, but plays in front of the backline as a do-it-all defensive midfielder. Sauerbrunn, meanwhile, will be relied upon to steady the United States at the back. 

Kelley O’Hara slots in as the starting right back, and her attacking instincts will be relied upon in build-up play. 2015 Golden Ball winner -- and hat-trick hero -- Carli Lloyd fills the super-sub role. Morgan Brian and Ali Krieger also return, bringing experience in midfield and at fullback, respectively. Christen Press, who did not play in the 2015 Final, adds to the Americans’ embarrassment of riches in attack in a role off the bench.

Who’s new? 

Hope Solo’s team this is not. Alyssa Naeher took the reigns as the USWNT’s starting keeper in the aftermath of Solo’s suspension and eventual contract termination with U.S. soccer, and plays a bit differently than her predecessor. FiveThirtyEight found that Naeher plays more passes out of the back than Solo, but stops fewer shots. 

Sacred Heart Preparatory (Atherton) alum Abby Dahlkemper will play alongside Sauerbrunn at center back, and make her World Cup debut. Crystal Dunn is another World Cup debutante along the back-line, but the left back will play a very progressive role as USWNT pushes players forward. Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle join Ertz in midfield, and the two arguably lead the charge among the team’s “next generation.” 

The two youngest players on the team could also be its breakout stars. 20-year-old Tierna Davidson, like Dahlkemper, is a Sacred Heart alumna, but the Chicago Red Stars defender left Stanford after a season to become the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft. 21-year-old Mallory Pugh didn’t play a game in college (UCLA) before turning pro, and made her senior national team debut as a 17-year-old. The pair might end up making its biggest impact in 2023, but don’t be surprised if either phenom plays a pivotal role in France when all is said and done. 

Who’s in their group?

After advancing from the Group Of Death in 2015, the draw was much kinder to the Americans this time around. The USWNT opens play in Group F against Thailand on June 11, and then plays Chile in Paris on June 16. The Chileans are making their World Cup debut, but both countries fall in the bottom three of ESPN’s Soccer Power Index

Sweden rounds out Group F, and will give the USWNT a strong challenge in the group-stage finale on June 20 in Le Havre. It’s a possible revenge game, as the Swedes eliminated the Americans in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics. Advancing to the knockout stage likely won’t come down to the grudge match, but Sweden will give the USWNT its first real test of the tournament. 

[RELATED: Women's World Cup predictions: USA faces stiff competition]

Can they win it all?

The USWNT is just as, if not more talented than any of the 23 countries competing in France this summer. Press, Pugh and potentially even now-36-year-old Lloyd could start for other teams at this World Cup, giving the Americans the deepest complement of attackers in the tournament. 

That’s a boon for Ellis’ ultra-attacking style, but the same strategy can leave her squad exposed in defense. Both Dunn and O’Hara have played -- or, in the case of Dunn, currently play -- higher up the pitch. That didn’t bite the Americans in their run of pre-tournament friendlies against weaker sides, but the USWNT only kept one clean sheet in five matches against teams FIFA currently ranks in the top 10 in the world. Considering the Americans only conceded three goals in the entirety of the last World Cup, that’s a concern. 

The expectations are as high as ever, and anything shy of reaching the Final likely will be seen as a disappointment. But the USWNT is tested, and should be hungry after bowing out of the 2016 Olympics sooner than expected. The Americans are favorites for a reason, and the road to a World Cup crown runs through them.