It had been 19 games, Erik Karlsson hadn’t scored a goal yet, but Peter DeBoer had jokes.
”The reality is a lot of very good things are going on. It just hasn’t resulted in points on the scoresheet. We have to ignore the noise that you guys create,” DeBoer told San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs media in mid-November. “We’re going to sit and have this conversation [later], you guys will forget everything you’ve written in the last month. Say I knew it was coming, like you always do.”
This was the 50-year-old coach’s thoroughly modern reasoning, “When you look at the underlying numbers of what he’s doing here, they’re as good or better than they were two years ago in Ottawa. Possession, shot, chance metrics, all those things.”
In terms of publicly-available data, DeBoer wasn’t wrong. Per Natural Stat Trick, Karlsson boasted a +4.03 Corsi For Percent Relative and a +1.11 Scoring Chances For Percent Relative at the time.
Proprietary data also supported DeBoer’s prognosis:
Two of the best puck-moving Dmen go head-to-head tonight. Roman Josi and Erik Karlsson have both struggled to find consistent production this year but it's clear the process is there #Preds #SJSharks pic.twitter.com/L4DKFCbbFM— The Point (@ThePointHockey) November 13, 2018
As if on cue, Karlsson dropped two goals and five assists over his next four games, silencing most of his critics.
But not all of them.
Over the last month, I’ve asked eight NHL scouts and executives their impressions of Karlsson’s play this year and whether or not their teams should make him the highest-paid defenseman in the league this summer.
The results might qualify as staggering.
One scout said, “I wouldn’t be jumping through hoops to give him a seven-year, $77 million dollar deal.” He added, “I did hear the other day that he was not enamored with San Jose.”
Another countered, “He hasn’t lost anything — if anything, he’s moving better than he was last year. The points will come and then everyone will be talking about how good he is and how much money he’s going to command.”
And there were a wide variety of opinions in between.
Sheng Peng: How has Karlsson looked to you so far this season?
Scout/Executive #1: He’s playing OK. He’s not playing the same way [as in Ottawa]. When you look at his game as a whole, he doesn’t have that jump. That risk factor, drive the game through him-type game. He’s more settled down. That could also be the coaches, let’s just start with the foundation, let’s start building the way we like you to play. Peter DeBoer is a very good coach, they play a high-tempo game. They don’t play a lot different than Ottawa. He should easily fit.
Scout/Executive #2: He hasn’t been great.
Scout/Executive #3: He has been better as of late.
SP: Going forward, are you concerned at all about his early-season struggles?
Scout/Executive #1: When a player is playing differently than the way’s he played, something’s up. When you’re trying to find reasons, you’re literally throwing darts. These are just darts. Physically, I don’t see the jump, the pop. I don’t see him using his feet as much. The mostly positive recklessness. He’s a creative player, but he’s not using that part of the toolbox as much. Why is that?
Every player has bullets. He has a lot of good bullets; he’s not using a few of them.
A lot of times, the player doesn’t know or doesn’t really know. Subconsciously, there’s a reason. Maybe that’s not the destination he wants to go to. Maybe that’s lingered into his game. That’s something you can’t overcome. That’s what I see, to a degree.
I did hear the other day that he was not enamored with San Jose. I don’t know why.
Scout/Executive #2: His skating looks fine to me. Maybe still just adapting. Pretty hard to start in a new spot and click right away.
Scout/Executive #4: He sees the game at a different level. His ability to control the game from the backend is second to none, just hasn’t shown up on the scoresheet yet. He hasn’t lost anything — if anything, he’s moving better than he was last year.
Scout/Executive #5: He’ll be fine...unfortunately for us.
SP: Based on what you’ve seen so far this year, would you recommend that your team, given enough cap space, make Erik Karlsson the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL?
Scout/Executive #1: If he’s looking for $11 million dollars, and I was judging from this year, I would be very reluctant. I wouldn’t be jumping through hoops to give him a seven-year, $77 million dollar deal. Not the way it’s gone so far.
Scout/Executive #2: Wait and see for sure. Tough to make decisions off a few early views. [His value around the league] is lower than normal, for sure.
Scout/Executive #3: Probably. It’s a little early to assess his play so far.
Scout/Executive #4: The points will come and then everyone will be talking about how good he is and how much money he’s going to command. I have no problem giving him Doughty’s contract.
Scout/Executive #6: Needs to play better first. Playoffs will be true test. Takes a lot of players a while to adjust to a new team after being on the same team for a long time.
Scout/Executive #7: Takes time to assess a contract of that nature. Also the player needs time to adjust to a new situation, like he is in after so many years in the same surroundings.
Scout/Executive #8: Not at all.