What’s next for Karlsson, Pavelski, Thornton?

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The San Jose Sharks have had their share of heartbreak over the last decade, but their elimination loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final might sting a little more because it might force them into some significant roster changes.

Heading into the offseason, the Sharks have several players on expiring contracts. They include: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Donskoi and Erik Karlsson. That list doesn’t include restricted free agents like Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier.

The Sharks are also without their first, second and fourth round draft picks this year, so making a trade without subtracting from the current team will also be difficult.

So, how will things shake out between the team and three of their key leaders?

Let’s start with Pavelski, who will be 35 years old by the start of next season. The veteran scored an impressive 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games during the regular season and he added four goals and nine more points in 13 postseason games.

As his teammates pointed out on numerous occasions during the playoffs, he’s more than just a goalscorer. After he went down with an upper-body injury in Game 7 of San Jose’s first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, it became clear that he’s an important figure in that locker room. But given his age, can they afford to bring him back at any cost? And where does he rank on the list of players they want to bring back?

He’s coming off a five-year, $30 million contract. Would the Sharks be willing to increase the money and would Pavelski be willing to bring down the term? Those are the biggest questions. In fairness to him, he’s been very durable throughout his career. Over the last eight seasons, he’s missed eight games but seven of those came in 2018-19.

No matter what the offseason brings for the Sharks, it would just feel wrong for us to see him in another jersey. They have to find a way to get him under contract before he hits the market.

As for Joe Thornton, the decision to return or not may be one sided. Thornton signed a one-year deal with the Sharks last summer, so agreeing on term shouldn’t be an issue. The big decision will have to be made by Thornton. Does he want to play another year?

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Thornton would like to win a Stanley Cup before his career is over, but he also seems like a guy that’s come to terms with the fact that that might not happen.

Even though he’ll be 40 years old by the start of next season, he can still serve as an effective third-line center on this team. He just has to figure out if he’s up to it or not.

Now, let’s tackle the situation with Erik Karlsson.

Where to start?

Does he want to be back in San Jose? We don’t know. Details regarding his interest in re-signing have been few and far between. Assuming he’s open to returning, how much term and money would he be looking for? You’d have to think that he’d want maximum term. So if he goes back to San Jose that would be for eight years and if he hits the market he’ll be looking for a seven-year contract.

But the reality is, anyone giving Karlsson that kind of term is taking a huge risk. He’s only 28 years old, but his body has taken a pounding over the last few seasons. He played 82 games per season for three years between 2013 and 2016. Since then, he’s suited up in 77, 71 and 53 contests.

It was obvious during these playoffs that he was playing through an injury. He didn’t suit up in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and there was no guarantee that he could’ve played in Game 7 had the Sharks been able to force one. Since Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 (they made it to double overtime in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins) Karlsson has been playing banged up. He underwent a serious ankle procedure after that run and he’s been fighting through injuries ever since.

As of this moment, the Sharks have over $24 million in cap space. But as we mentioned before, there’s so many key players that need to be paid that it might not be possible for them to bring them all back. We know that Pavelski and Thornton would want to stick around, but there’s no guarantee Karlsson will be willing to take a discount.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy offseason for general manager Doug Wilson.

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Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.