31 Takes: Erik Karlsson’s status could be pivotal for San Jose

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If he had stayed healthy this season, Erik Karlsson would be in the running for the Norris.

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Even after a torturously slow start, he’s scored a ton this year; he’s 13th in scoring among defensemen despite missing 19 games. In points per game he’s seventh. His underlying numbers are huge across the board, the team looks unbeatable most nights because it can roll him, Brent Burns, him, Brent Burns, all night. Just like everyone expected.

Now, he’s skating again on that wonky groin — though the team says he’s not close to being back into the lineup — and even if they probably shouldn’t have played him as they did in February, there might not be a huge reason to rush him for any of these last 10 games anyway.

San Jose is 29-16-7 with Karlsson playing. About a 103-point pace. But in the games he’s missed, they’re 14-5-1, a pace for 119 points. You can dice that up however, you like, and of course you’d prefer to have an all-world defenseman in the lineup rather than on the IR. But it’s not as if the team can’t win without him.

The thing is, though, that the Sharks are in a hell of a tight race to avoid drawing back into the division in the first round. They’re currently a point behind Calgary for the top spot in the Pacific, after both teams lost to the top teams in the Central on Saturday. Finishing first means the difference between a relatively easy series against the eighth-place team (Minnesota? Arizona? Does it matter?) and a nails-tough one against a Vegas team that looks unstoppable with Mark Stone in the fold.

The Sharks are arguably already guilty of rushing Karlsson once. If you get to Game 78, 79, 80 or later and he’s creeping closer to 100 percent, do you risk it? It’s a hell of a question, because Karlsson wasn’t exactly great when he came back in mid-February: just two power play points in five games, only two of which the Sharks won, with merely very good underlyings, rather than phenomenal. And then of course the setback that could end up holding him out for a month-plus.

If you get into that situation in a couple weeks where your last five games are against Vegas, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Colorado, and you’re neck-and-neck with the Flames, and you need those points, what do you do? If Karlsson’s even 90 percent, can you put him in and risk losing him for the postseason? San Jose has been great since the start of March (6-1-0) and the record all year has been good, but they’re not so far removed from a skid in which they lost four of seven, and if the pressure grows, it might lead them to make a(nother) dicey decision on Karlsson for the sake of trying to lock in those points.

If the Sharks keep winning at a decent clip and at least keep pace with Calgary, I’d be shocked to see Karlsson before the playoffs. After they play the Golden Knights later tonight, they have four very winnable games (LA, Anaheim, Detroit, Chicago) before Vegas and Calgary again. If they don’t make hay in that four-game stretch, it might force them to make a tough call.

This is probably the most interesting — and definitely the most important — stretch of the season in the Pacific. While San Jose’s playing everyone who’s any good in the division, Vegas and Calgary are all done with each other. They have more easy points left on the schedule, if you will.

One assumes the Sharks will make the best possible decision here, but they failed to do that once already. So it might end up being fine. But, y’know, what if it doesn’t?

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are gonna try to fill out their roster for next season with college and European free agents. I have a theory how that’s gonna go: Bad. Unless they’re trying to tank. In which case: Good.

Arizona Coyotes: Sometimes Connor McDavid is gonna Connor McDavid you and at least they got a point out of it.

Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand is now 13 points from hitting the century mark with 10 games left. At his current pace he’ll hit 99.25. This is gonna be a close one.

Buffalo Sabres: It’s really not out of the question that this team has a 10-game winning streak and, three games from now, a 10-game losing streak in the same season. Incredible.

Calgary Flames: The Flames have a pretty easy path the rest of the way here. Columbus, Dallas, and San Jose are the only current playoff teams left on the docket.

Carolina Hurricanes: It’s nice that they got the win — and are now almost assured a playoff appearance — but these third jerseys truly stink!

Chicago: They’re on five straight wins so now we have to listen to “they’re really in the mix again, and if they get in, they could be dangerous!” for the second time in a couple months. They’re five points out, and they just gave up 48 shots to MONTREAL. Tedious.

Colorado Avalanche: This was the big shovelful of dirt on their playoff hopes.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Normally this is the kind of thing where I go, “Oh come on,” but this OT point really was huge. It put them three up on Montreal with the same number of games played. Massive.

Dallas Stars: Hey maybe hiring that new coach from college worked out after all.

Detroit Red Wings: Now that was a hilarious win. You love to see it.

Edmonton Oilers: Oilers call up Gambardella, immediately win. Interesting. But not surprising.

Florida Panthers: Come on with this.

Los Angeles Kings: This signing…. Not great.

Minnesota Wild: This headline ain’t kidding. Islanders yesterday, then Colorado, Washington, Carolina, Nashville, Vegas, Arizona, Winnipeg, Boston, and Dallas. Only Colorado isn’t a playoff team right now. Woof.

Montreal Canadiens: The Drouin trade really doesn’t look good for the Habs.

Nashville Predators: The Preds need to win a lot from here on out because they’re behind the Jets and have two extra games played. St. Louis is no longer a threat and maybe not-playing them in the playoffs doesn’t matter, but still.

New Jersey Devils: I really don’t envy Ray Shero if he can’t get Taylor Hall locked up this summer.

New York Islanders: There hasn’t been a power play goal for any team in an Islanders game in the last seven games. That’s wild.

New York Rangers: Yes the whole point of tanking is that your team tries really hard and “doesn’t cave” but also still loses and sometimes loses badly. That’s how it works.

Ottawa Senators: Just a hilarious result.

Philadelphia Flyers: Mmm, yes, good question.

Pittsburgh Penguins: On the one hand, yeah, it’s nice to be able to say you just lost to a hot goalie. On the other hand, Binnington had allowed nine goals on 68 shots in his previous three starts, so…

San Jose Sharks: “Erik Karlsson’s free agency value has diminished this season” is …. not a good take.

St. Louis Blues: Even after that big W in Pittsburgh, the Blues are only 5-5-2 in the last 12. Not optimal, but they’re basically in at this point with no fear of dropping into the wild card, so it doesn’t really matter.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa has 95 goals in the first period alone this season. They almost always play with a lead. Incredible.

Toronto Maple Leafs: You hate to see it.

Vancouver Canucks: They really should have traded Tanev last year.

Vegas Golden Knights: Yeah when Alex Tuch is on your third line, well, you’re in good shape.

Washington Capitals: Really good take here.

Winnipeg Jets: This is an interesting signing for the Jets. I liked Kovacevic in college and I’m curious to see what he can do at the next level.

Gold Star Award

Credit where it’s due: Corey Crawford has been lights-out in his last four starts. Including the 48-save shutout on Saturday, he has only allowed three goals on 118 shots. Come on.

Minus of the Weekend

I’m gonna do a take on this for Wednesday if things keep going this way but the Leafs’ defense and goaltending of late has been just horrible.

Play of the Weekend

On Saturday night I asked how the Oilers ever lose with a guy like Connor McDavid on the team, and Carlo Colaiacovo(???) told me, “Cuz they’re the Oilers.” Which is about right.

Anyway, here’s a great goal.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Lafleurs guy” is swinging for the fences.

Montreal: Drouin + Mete

Philly: Gostisbehere

Signoff

My scalp hurts from horsefly bites.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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