In speaking with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live,” Erik Karlsson stated the obvious, and then set the stage for some debate.
Maybe most importantly, Karlsson insists that he’s healthy. Karlsson being at full-strength would be pivotal to proving that the Sharks are better than what we saw in 2019-20.
Speaking of 2019-20, Karlsson confirmed what many believe. Playing out regular season games doesn’t really make much of a difference to his Sharks. If anything, it would be worse to pull players away from families, and increase risks.
The 2019-20 season remains a lost cause. But what about the future?
Karlsson isn’t thinking about a Sharks rebuild
Tirico mentioned the concept of a rebuild, but Karlsson didn’t really think about that. After all, Karlsson is 29, and will turn 30 on May 31. Why would he even entertain the idea of multiple years of rebuilding?
Frankly, the Sharks aren’t structured for one anyway. The pick the Sharks traded to Ottawa as part of the Karlsson trade takes any sweetness away from “tanking.” Karlsson is also not the only Sharks player hovering around, if not past, 30. San Jose doesn’t boast the best foundation for blowing things up. Heck, they aren’t even the aging team in the best position to do so in their state (hey, at least the Kings already have some interesting prospects).
So, can this just be a blip on the radar? That answer likely hinges on your expectations for the Sharks.
Can the Sharks rebound from 2019-20?
You likely know the basics of the bad news. The Sharks went 29-36-5 this season (63 points in 70 games), placing them dead last in the West, and third-worst in the NHL. They gave up the fifth-most goals per game (3.21), while their offense wasn’t potent enough to patch up leaks like it did in 2018-19.
There’s some good news, though.
While I’m not sure I’m buying Karlsson’s note about injuries — plenty of NHL teams were hit worse, and many found ways to compete anyway — there was some bad luck for San Jose.
Now, they were still expected to allow more goals than they scored at even-strength according to Hockey Reference, yet poor puck luck exaggerated some issues. Despite generating 52.2 percent of the high-danger chances in their favor, the Sharks allowed more goals from such chances (38) than they produced (31).
(I’d say special teams is a wash, as expected power play gains might be negated by how unlikely it is that the Sharks will have the league’s best PK again.)
Most obviously, their goaltending was abysmal. Still, their shooting luck wasn’t so great, either.
With a little more luck, the Sharks could be more viable, particularly in what’s been a weak Pacific Division.
Now, hoping to return to a team on the cusp of a title? That might be a little bit lofty of a goal compared to returning to playoff contention.
Then again, GM Doug Wilson often has a trick or two up his sleeve. While the Sharks already deal with a shaky salary structure, could they just go for it with, say, Taylor Hall or Braden Holtby?
I’m not sure either of those ideas would actually be … you know, prudent, but the point is that the Sharks might have wiggle room.
A quick look at what Karlsson brings to the Sharks
By most measures, Karlsson still gives the Sharks a valuable defenseman, even if debates about his actual defensive value continue.
Does he more or less check out as at least viable enough defensively to make his offense worth it? Scanning various metrics, including Karlsson’s RAPM chart at Evolving Hockey, makes me think “yes.”
Granted, those metrics also don’t scream “$11.5M defenseman.” The Sharks are going to want more, even for a player who managed a fairly impressive 40 points in 56 games.
One could also grimace at the continued pattern of goalies having bad save percentages when Karlsson’s on the ice. My guess is that Karlsson’s career-low 85 percent on-ice save percentage is a little bit extreme. Even so, this marks the third year where Karlsson’s on-ice save percentage was below 90 percent. (It also dipped below 90 in four of his last five seasons.)
Overall, I still lean toward Karlsson being very, very good, even if he’ll struggle to justify his current price tag. (After, fittingly, being sorely underpaid with Ottawa.)
But even Peak Karlsson needs more help. Whether that comes from better goaltending, a system that plays to his and Brent Burns‘ strengths even more, or adding someone new, the Sharks probably need to do more than just hope that last season was an isolated nightmare.
So, do you think Karlsson is right?
MORE ON THE SHARKS
• Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far
• Long-term outlook
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.