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2018-19 Season Review: Erik Karlsson for eight more years

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And we all thought he was leaving!

May 17, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) handles the puck during the third period in game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.  Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Picture this: it’s last summer. You’re living your life when you get a notification to your phone. Elite defensemen Erik Karlsson has joined the San Jose Sharks for a very low price. Sounds like a dream, right? Somehow, we got to live this. Now, Karlsson is on the edge of becoming an unrestricted free agent. Teams across the National Hockey League are dreaming to land him the way the Sharks did.

The joke is on them, though. We get eight more years of this man with the beautiful hair.

Erik Karlsson only played 53 games in teal this year, but his impact was felt. Joining the likes of Brent Burns and Marc-Eduard Vlasic on the blueline, it took some adjusting to get things going. Defensive pairs were mixed and matched quite a bit. He was partnered with Burns, Vlasic and Brenden Dillon throughout the season. He eventually settled in with Dillon and the pair typically started each game.

Erik Karlsson player card Getty Images/Fear the Fin illustration by JD Young

The reason Erik Karlsson didn’t see more games with San Jose was due to a lingering injury that plagued him throughout the season. It all started in January when he initially strained his groin. He missed a total of nine games and returned to the lineup looking slightly off. He sat out again with the same injury come February and ended up missing a total of 29 games during the regular season. Things didn’t get better as the postseason rolled in. The St. Louis Blues took advantage of the injured defender, making him a target every time he was on the ice. He sat out the final playoff game of the season, which I’m sure gutted him.

The good news is, he should be good to go next season in teal. He went through a successful surgery on his groin. He’s already started rehab and was seen on crutches at a Golden State Warriors NBA Finals game. He seems to really enjoy Warriors games, maybe that helped convince him to stay in the Bay.

Career Summary (via HockeyViz)

The two-time Norris Trophy winner spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators before coming to San Jose amidst some highly publicized drama. He was clearly unhappy with his former club, but really shined there. He had two seasons with more than 70 points there, making his mark as an elite offensive defensemen. Clearly, he is an important player in the NHL and the Sharks were happy to acquire him.

This season he put up three goals and 42 assists. He averaged about 25 minutes on the ice each night. As the playoffs came, it was clear he was struggling with his injury. He failed to find the back of the net for awhile, though he assisted on several goals. He ended up scoring two goals in the ‘yoffs, including that infamous hand pass goal St. Louis Blues Twitter will not stop talking about even though they won the cup. He put up 13 assists in 16 games.

He didn’t have a 70+ points season and he won’t see a Norris Trophy nomination after his time with the Sharks this season, but he aided the Sharks when they needed him. He put up 45 points in only 53 games. He got a slow start producing, not finding the back of the net in San Jose until November, but he made up with assists. Sharks fans were a bit hard on him, but after realizing the extent of his injury, it’s clear why he didn’t produce the way we are used to seeing him. I would love to see him healthy in teal next year.

RAPM Chart (via Evolving Hockey)

In case you needed a reminder of why and how Erik Karlsson is an elite player: he broke the chart when it comes to his offensive production, without sacrificing defense. He is worlds above his peers.

Highlight

We could talk about that hand pass goal, but I refuse to give anyone that satisfaction and floor for debate again. Let’s go back to November. Pretty much every game preview leading up to this night, we here at Fear The Fin made the bold prediction that Karlsson would score roughly 100 goals that night. When it finally happened, we were all so excited. It was a glorious slap shot against the St. Louis Blues, ironically enough. It happened on home ice, to make it even better, and the look on his face after was priceless. This was probably my favorite Karlsson moment of the season.

What comes next?

What comes next for Erik Karlsson? A few weeks ago it seemed as if every team in the NHL were going to sign the unrestricted free agent. After what seemed like a dark farewell post on Instagram, Karlsson decided he liked us so much he’d stay eight more years.

Sorry, Drew Doughty (not really), Erik Karlsson has the biggest contract for a defenseman in the league now. Coming in at roughly $11.5 million per year, he is now the highest paid defenseman in the NHL. The Sharks now get eight years of a rightfully paid and (hopefully) healthy Karlsson. Amazing!

Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi are a few of the unrestricted free agents the Sharks have, while Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier make up part of the restricted free agent list. Clearly, there are key players on this list who the Sharks will hope to work contracts out with. In a perfect world, we’d get to keep a majority of these players, but the Karlsson contract has put a dent in the plan of re-signing our old friends.

It’s safe to say Karlsson fits in well with the Sharks for one reason in particular: he is hungry for a cup. With this Sharks roster, it’s clear they could very well be a top contender for the Stanley Cup. I think he decided to stay in San Jose because of this. But where does his new contract leave us now? As Joe Pavelski begins meeting with other teams, it could be the end of the Pavelski era in San Jose. Had the Sharks not signed Karlsson to a record deal, the roster would have probably looked about the same as last year. Now, it seems up in the air.

Before, the future of Karlsson was the question on everyone’s mind. With Karlsson signed to a big contract, there’s only question marks surrounding his teammates. There will need to be moves to free up cap space. It’s clear Joe Thornton will return, but that’s about it off of our free agency list. Will Pavelski be willing to take a hometown discount? Who will be moved to make space to get Timo or Labanc contracts? Who knows. One thing we do know is we get to see Erik Karlsson in teal for what seems to be the rest of his career. It’s safe to buy those Kalrsson jerseys, y’all!