Can Karlsson find old form to help Sharks get back to playoffs? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Any plan the Sharks have to turn things around and get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs starts with Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson, 30, is the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL, with a cap hit of $11.5 million per year for the next seven seasons. Karlsson has been somewhat disappointing since arriving via trade with the Ottawa Senators in 2018. In 109 games with the Sharks, Karlsson has notched just 85 points (nine goals, 76 assists) after tallying 518 points in 627 games while averaging just under a point per contest in his eight seasons in Ottawa.
General manager Doug Wilson has said this is the first time Karlsson will be 100 percent healthy after missing time in each of the past two seasons with various injuries. The Sharks are relying on Karlsson to activate more on the power play and boost a unit that ranked 23rd in the NHL last season. They also hope he can further gel with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and create the top-line pairing San Jose envisioned when it traded for Karlsson.
While some expect the former Norris Trophy winner to have a resurgent season after an 11-month hiatus, some in NHL circles aren't so convinced. In a panel with general managers and coaches conducted by The Athletic, Karlsson was not viewed in a good light.
“Erik Karlsson is interesting,” a coach told The Athletic. “I would take [Ivan] Provorov over Karlsson any day of the week. I think Thomas Chabot will go by him. I don’t know if he’s there yet. But he’ll go by him. I’d take Brent Burns over Karlsson. When I look at defending, scoring, possession -- I’d put Karlsson in 4A. I don’t think he defends at all.”
A Western Conference executive went even further in his critique of the Sharks defenseman.
“He’s been awful,” a Western Conference executive told The Athletic. “What is wrong with this guy? He went from maybe his game is just off, maybe he’ll get it back. Karlsson is one to look at. I know why he’s where he is (in the tiers).
"But this guy is not really good right now.”
It's fair to chalk a lot of Karlsson's poor play up to lousy injury luck. The Sharks will point to an 18-game stretch from Dec. 7, 2018, to Jan. 16, 2019, when Karlsson notched 27 points and the Sharks went 13-4-1. That shows the impact Karlsson can and should have on the Sharks when fully healthy.
Boil it all down to an even simpler point: When Karlsson has at least one point, the Sharks are a much better team. Last season, the Sharks went 16-12-4 when Karlsson tallied a point and were just 9-15-0 when he failed to get on the scorer's sheet.
It's fair to assume that Erik Karlsson, when healthy, still is a good player and one who will be critical for the Sharks to succeed this season. The injuries he was playing with clearly impacted his play. But after 11 months off, Karlsson's body should be refreshed and his game should once again rise to the standard hockey fans were accustomed to seeing while he was in Ottawa.
For Karlsson, this season should be all about silencing his doubters and proving that he still is one of the best defensemen in the game. If he can discover his old form and stay healthy, he should be among the elite blueliners in the NHL and the Sharks should have the playoffs in their sights.