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

Marcus White
NBC Sports BayArea

Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks, passed on NHL free agency originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

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

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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."

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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.

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