NHL All-Star Game

Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

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Sharks jersey retirements: Why Owen Nolan should be honored first

Editor’s Note: The Sharks are the only team in the Pacific Division -- other than the nascent Vegas Golden Knights -- who have not raised the jersey of a former player to the rafters. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the cases of the five likeliest candidates to have the Sharks’ first retired number. We continue with former captain Owen Nolan. 

Owen Nolan owns a couple of “firsts” in Sharks history, but none are as cool as being on the cover of a video game. 

Nolan became the first Shark to score 80-plus points and 40-plus goals in a single season when he scored 84 and 44, respectively, during the 1999-00 season. He ranked sixth and second in the NHL in those categories that season, leading San Jose to a first-round upset of the President’s Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

That season landed the power forward on the cover of EA Sports’ “NHL 2001” the following fall, making him the first San Jose player to earn a spot on the box of either EA Sports’ annual game or 2K Sports’ now-defunct “NHL 2K” series. Joe Thornton followed in Nolan’s footsteps -- landing on the “NHL 2K7” cover -- but Nolan was, in many ways, the Sharks’ first real star. 

Let’s examine the case for, and against, retiring Nolan’s No. 11 jersey first. 

The case for

Nolan became the first Sharks player to appear in multiple All-Star Games while playing for San Jose, and he still ranks second in franchise history -- behind defenseman Brent Burns -- with four All-Star appearances. He also captained the team for parts of five seasons, and only Patrick Marleau can say the same. 

From Nolan’s first game with the Sharks (Oct. 28, 1995) until his last (March 1, 2003), he scored more goals (206) than all but 26 NHL players and more points (451) than all but 38. That might not seem gaudy, but Pat Falloon, San Jose’s leading scorer in the four seasons prior to Nolan’s midseason arrival during the 1995-96 season, tied for 126th in the NHL in points (159) in the aforementioned pre-Nolan era.

He led the Sharks as they transitioned from annual also-ran into perennial playoff contender, captaining the first team in franchise history to win a division title in 2001-02 and just the third to even win a playoff series in 1999-2000. San Jose would not advance to the Western Conference Final until 2003-04 -- a year after Nolan was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs -- but the Sharks’ success with Nolan wearing the “C” helped lay the foundation. 

By the time Nolan left the Sharks, he had 101 more points and 57 more goals than any other player in franchise history. He was the most impactful player in San Jose’s first decade and change, and that’s worth honoring. 

The case against

It’s not Nolan’s fault, but he has since been surpassed on the Sharks’ all-time lists. He now ranks fifth in goals -- behind Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Thornton and Logan Couture -- and sixth in points. He understandably has fallen down the games-played chart, too, and Tomas Hertl needs to play 164 games over his remaining three years under contract to push Nolan out of the top 10. 

Nolan is right around there on the Sharks’ playoff points list, tying for ninth in goals (15) and ranking 13th in points (27) in San Jose’s postseason history. His tenure marked a turning point for the franchise, but he was never able to advance out of the second round in five playoff appearances in teal. One player does not make a team, but other Sharks have come closer to ending the franchise’s Stanley Cup drought. 

Jersey retirements do not, and should not, have a higher standard than Hockey Hall of Fame induction, but some of Nolan’s successors accomplished more and over a longer period of time than he did in San Jose. Although he seems like a lock for a jersey retirement at some point, it’s fair to wonder if he should be first in line. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans vote original teal as franchise's best-ever jersey]

Verdict

For a certain generation of Sharks fans, Nolan is why they fell in love with the team. The called shot in the 1997 All-Star Game, the center-ice slap shot in Game 7 against the Blues in 2000 and Nolan’s presence on the “NHL 2001” cover all contribute to a largely unmatched legacy in San Jose. 

But a few players have exceeded his accomplishments as a Shark, and are better candidates to get their number retired first. That discrepancy can largely be chalked up to timing, as Nolan just happened to precede an era in which San Jose joined the NHL’s elite. 

Nolan’s Sharks tenure is an important milestone on the journey, however, and one that ultimately should be honored with his No. 11 jersey hanging in SAP Center’s rafters. It just won’t be the first one.

Which Sharks should have their jersey retired first?

The case for -- and against -- Evgeni Nabokov's jersey retirement

Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks, passed on NHL free agency

Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks, passed on NHL free agency

The 2019 NHL All-Star Game might have been more meaningful than you realized.

It wasn't because the Sharks hosted the event at San Jose's SAP Center for the first time since 1997, or even because the Sharks had an NHL-leading three representatives. No, it was because of what the event ultimately signified to defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Five months before re-signing with the Sharks for eight years on Monday, Karlsson was still in the middle of his first season in San Jose and about a week removed from injuring his groin for the first time. He missed three games before the All-Star Game -- and the first six after -- because of the injury, but he played in the All-Star Game on home ice because it was important for San Jose's fans. 

And ultimately, San Jose was important to him, he told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in a 1-on-1 interview Monday.

"If the All-Star Game would have been somewhere else, I most likely would have not played," Karlsson said. "But I do think that having an All-Star Game at home means a lot for the organization and the fanbase, and I felt like that was something I was possibly going to be a part of for a very long time, so it meant a lot to me and I wanted to do that. So yeah, when you look back at it, I don't even think that I fully understood at the time what it really meant, but ... we felt connected to this organization since we got here."

In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Karlsson repeatedly mentioned how the Sharks gave him the time and space to get comfortable with his new surroundings, and ultimately make a decision about his future. Before a Sept. 13 trade brought him to San Jose on the eve of training camp, the Senators were the only NHL team he had played for. Ottawa had become his home.

It was a position Sharks general manager Doug Wilson knew well. Before joining San Jose ahead of its inaugural NHL season in 1991-92, Wilson had spent the entirety of his career in Chicago. His wife is from there, just as Karlsson's is from Ottawa. As a result, Wilson knew how important it was to let Karlsson acclimate, despite the defenseman being in the final season of his contract.

After all, Karlsson entered the season as the only active defenseman to win the Norris Trophy twice and is the leading scorer at his position since making his NHL debut in 2009. Although the aforementioned groin injuries hampered him in 53 regular-season games and the ensuing playoff run, Karlsson would have had suitors in free agency -- look no further than the New York Rangers acquiring right-shooting defenseman (and pending restricted free agent) Jacob Trouba hours after Karlsson re-signed with the Sharks.

But Karlsson didn't want to let things get that far, and if he did, he told Brazil he still would have had San Jose in mind.

"I think that speaks to how everything transpired since the Sharks acquired me," Karlsson said. " ... I think that ever since I got here we've had a great relationship and if I, by any chance, wanted to test the free-agency market, I would have let them know as early as I possibly could because I do understand that there's a lot of things that need to be done, and a lot of things that require a lot of time, so I wanted to give them the most time that they possibly could to have the best team that they possibly can."

[RELATED: Sharks to face Pacific rivals throughout 2019 preseason]

Karlsson told Brazil he is happy to be a big part of the Sharks trying to do just that. Wilson said Karlsson's decision gives San Jose's offseason clarity, even as the general manager is faced with other tough choices in building out the roster this season and beyond. 

But Karlsson, a six-time All-Star, now is in the fold for the foreseeable future. And as a result, his latest All-Star appearance could be remembered for much more than just a midseason exhibition.

Erik Karlsson, Steven Stamkos get over NHL All-Star Game losses with tacos

Erik Karlsson, Steven Stamkos get over NHL All-Star Game losses with tacos

SAN JOSE -- Erik Karlsson and Steven Stamkos did not stew over their losses in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game for very long.

The Sharks defenseman and the Tampa Bay Lightning center consoled themselves with tacos after the Pacific and Atlantic Division teams were bounced in Saturday’s semifinal games at SAP Center.

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Consolation prize. Tacos.!!!!

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The Pacific, Atlantic and Central Division squads missed out on the $1 million prize the Metropolitan Division team took home for winning the three-game tournament. But Karlsson and Stamkos’ post-loss tacos were pretty indicative of the light-hearted nature of it all.

[RELATED: Karlsson stays mum on injury status, contract talks]

Karlsson’s squad trailed 7-1 at the end of the first period, and wasn’t able to keep the score any closer than a touchdown. This being an All-Star Game, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said the mood on the bench remained light despite the scoreline.

“We were laughing,” Doughty said, “but I think we were laughing because we were so embarrassed that we were playing so bad.”

Stamkos and the Atlantic Division suffered a more hard-luck fate in the other semifinal. They jumped out to a 4-3 lead early in the second period, before allowing three unanswered goals.

Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said he joked with Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay’s coach, and the man behind the Atlantic’s bench, was entirely at fault. When Toronto Maple Leafs stars John Tavares and Auston Matthews relayed the story, they quickly passed the buck.

“I think Yandle said on the bench it was coaching,” Tavares said.

“It definitely wasn’t leadership,” Matthews, who wore the “C” as the Atlantic Division’s captain, quickly deadpanned. 

[RELATED: Sharks' rivals take San Jose's NHL All-Star boos in strides]

The players soaked in the laughs during losses, the consolation tacos after, and the joyful throwing of coaches under the bus in media scrums. All-Star Weekend, after all, is supposed to be fun for them, too.

“It’s always a great experience,” Doughty said. “The best part about it is just being in the room, meeting new guys and having fun after a little bit. [We] would have liked a better result, but we had tons of fun. Wouldn’t change being anywhere else.”