Erik Karlsson up for challenge of finding fit with Sharks

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Let’s get the business part out of the way first. An extension with the San Jose Sharks isn’t on Erik Karlsson’s mind just yet. As he was formally introduced on Wednesday afternoon, he donned the team’s jersey for the first time after a few days of waiting for immigration issue to be sorted and packing for the biggest move of his life.

“I realized I have a pretty big closet, I have a lot of things to bring,” joked Karlsson, who’s in the final year of his contract. “I didn’t think I had enough, but I think I have more than enough.”

While the Karlssons will keep their house in Ottawa, what happens in the next year is still up in the air. There was an expectation that an extension would be announced not long after the trade from the Senators was finalized — like Max Pacioretty. But not so fast noted The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, who pointed out that per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, an eight-year contract cannot be signed just yet, if Karlsson and his wife do decide they want to stay.

Break out your handy CBA and turn to page 285 and you’ll read this:

“An SPC with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a Club may sign a Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that Player was on such Club’s Reserve List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline. With respect to potential Unrestricted Free Agents only, the ability to re-sign a Player to an SPC of eight (8) years expires when the Player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. With respect to a Player who becomes a Group 2 Restricted Free Agent, a Club may sign such Player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years provided such Player was on such Club’s Reserve List and/or Restricted Free Agent List as of and since the most recent Trade Deadline.”

LeBrun added that the Sharks were aware of this rule when they made the trade.

Since we have five months before that situation can be resolved, the focus can be on the ice and Karlsson practiced with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday. General manager Doug Wilson added the “difference-maker” he so badly sought over the summer and his upgraded offensive arsenal can dig in for a Western Conference fight with the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.

[Erik Karlsson on Ottawa: ‘I never wanted to leave this place’]

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t sure when he’d try to get Karlsson into one of the team’s final five preseason games. The next little while is about getting him settled into a new city, familiar with his new teammates and up-to-speed on the team’s systems.

“I don’t think Erik has to adapt at all,” DeBoer said. “He just has to do what he does. He’s one of the best players on the planet. We just need him to do what he’s done for his whole career… We play up-tempo, we play aggressive. We play the way he plays. He’s going to fit right in.”

“It’s definitely going to be a change,” Karlsson said. “I like to see challenges and I think it will be a fun challenge, not only for me but this whole team. They’ve been a successful team for a number of years. They were extremely good last year and I’m extremely excited to be part of a good organization and good hockey club right from the start. I’ll do everything I can to fit in as good as I possibly can and being able to play the best hockey I know I can do.”

Karlsson skated with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while Brent Burns was paired with Justin Braun. That’s a very, very strong top-four to throw out on the ice every night, and there’s still two weeks to experiment with different pairings.

(At one point, DeBoer put Karlsson out with Burns and Joe Pavelski during a three-on-three drill. Good luck slowing that trio down.)

The different dimensions of Karlsson’s game that he’s bringing to San Jose will give DeBoer plenty of options when he looks to deploy his new defenseman.

“What I love about Erik’s game, everybody looks at the offense, but he’s an exceptional defensive player, too,” said DeBoer. “So, I think we can use him in every situation. There’s very few players in the world that I would term that you can use in the last minute of games when you’re up, or you’re down, to shut down the other team’s best players to create offense when you’re from behind, and he’s one of those guys. He has those types of tools. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways.”

MORE: Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense

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A little more than a decade ago, the San Jose Sharks’ high-end teams were short-circuited by the Ducks almost-unfair defensive combination of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. In landing Erik Karlsson in a momentous trade on Thursday, San Jose now has an answer to that duo … and going further, one of the best defensive trios we’ve seen in ages.

Since the last lockout in 2012-13, Karlsson and Brent Burns won three of the past seven Norris Trophies (two to Karlsson, one to Burns). They’ve essentially gone toe-to-toe in fantasy leagues as the top defensemen, too, thanks to their tendency to fire buckets of pucks on net and score in ways you’d expect from forwards.

Consider that, since 2012-13, Karlsson (369) and Burns (346) easily lead all NHL defensemen in points. In fact, P.K. Subban is the only other defenseman who cracked 300, with 301. They also comprise two of the top three in goals for blueliners, with Burns being the only one with at least 100 (116).

The third member of the trio doesn’t enjoy the same level of glory, yet Marc-Edouard Vlasic might just be the glue that makes this stick together in a way that works on a triumphant level.

[Read up on the landmark trade here.]

In the most obvious terms, Vlasic is a left-handed defenseman, while Karlsson and Burns are both right-handed shots. More deeply, Vlasic and Burns have been used in massively opposed ways under head coach Peter DeBoer; “Pickles” has been jarred up in almost brutally defensive-minded matchups, while Burns is leveraged for offense in almost extreme ways. (The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow did a deep dive on this [sub required] about a year ago.)

The beauty of this addition is that Karlsson makes the Sharks more exciting in a combination of ways:

Fireworks: For casual fans – and everyone, too, honestly – San Jose will just be a blast to watch, from Burns’ blasts from all over the ice to Karlsson’s ability to impact virtually every aspect of their transition game.

At times with the Sharks and plenty of other top-heavy teams, there’s a feeling of mild boredom whenever the big dogs are on the bench. Depending upon how they’re deployed, it’s plausible that there won’t be many moments without one of Burns or Karlsson patrolling the Sharks blueline (and delightfully looking for opportunities to attack).

How it all works: Circling back to that point about deployment, hockey nerds get to geek out about how DeBoer mixes Karlsson, Burns, Vlasic, and other Sharks defensemen such as Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon.

One cannot help but wonder if the common coaching leaning toward handedness (accidentally summons Adam Oates) will play into this. How often will DeBoer put Burns and Karlsson on the ice at the same time, particularly at even strength?

You’ll really want to get your popcorn for Sharks power plays.

A ton of data suggests that NHL teams are almost always better off rolling with a power play that features four forwards and one defenseman (Matt Cane explains why at Hockey Graphs). One would figure that there are plenty of situations where all five forwards being out there would be a bold-yet-brilliant plan.

Personnel and context matter a lot, however, and DeBoer would almost certainly be foolish not to put both Burns and Karlsson out there on a top unit.

One of the many bright sides to this idea is that Burns sometimes operates like a borderliner forward (or “rover”) anyway, and Burns was even drafted as a forward. Consider his huge body and distracting beard, Burns could be a nightmare if he occasionally tried to screen goalies, although it might be foolish to put him in the line of fire too often.

Overall, there are some challenges to making this all work, at least in the most optimal way possible. Don’t expect opposing coaches to hand Peter DeBoer any Kleenex for his troubles, though.

The best defense in the NHL?: I don’t think you’d get much of an argument about the Sharks now boasting the most explosive defense from a scoring standpoint. Does the addition of Karlsson make San Jose’s defense the best in the NHL?

That’s a tough call, as the Nashville Predators boast a younger group, but San Jose’s terrifying from the top-end.

Perhaps the best-in-the-business debate boils down to how well you view Braun, Dillon, and other supporting cast members? Personally, I’d probably give San Jose the slight edge over the Predators and Jets of the world, as great as those groups are.

After all, considering the minutes that can be covered by Karlsson, Burns, and Vlasic, there will only be scarce opportunities for opponents to attack any perceived weaknesses in San Jose’s group.

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With word surfacing that Joe Thornton seems healthy, the Sharks appeared to be the runaway favorites to win the Pacific (if not more). Then the Vegas Golden Knights made things interesting, again, by landing Max Pacioretty. Now the Sharks have upped the ante – finally, after missing out on the likes of John Tavares – by acquiring Karlsson.

Burns is 33, Vlasic is 31, and Karlsson’s even 28, so a Debbie Downer might worry about this group having a limited window for true domination. That’s plausible, if fun-killing, but the Sharks once again rise up as a daunting opponent for 2018-19.

It should be breathtaking to watch, although for opponents, that shortness for air would probably result from fear.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Erik Karlsson dealt to Sharks as Senators continue roster teardown

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The long-awaited Erik Karlsson traded has finally been completed and the talented defenseman and prospect Francis Perron are heading to the San Jose Sharks. In return, the Ottawa Senators will receive Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, plus two conditional picks.

Here are the details on those picks:

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson went hard after John Tavares in free agency, but struck out and moved on to extending key pieces in Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane. He wanted a “difference-maker” and certainly achieved that goal in acquiring the 28-year-old Karlsson.

San Jose’s blue line will now feature Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, a very solid trio, while their top power play unit will be something to watch with the newly-added Swede.

“It’s extremely rare that players of this caliber become available,” said Wilson. “The word ‘elite’ is often thrown around casually but Erik’s skillset and abilities fit that description like few other players in today’s game.”

Karlsson, who was the No. 15 overall selection in the 2008 NHL draft, spent nine years with the Senators, suiting up for 627 games, scoring 126 goals and recording 518 points. He quickly developed into an all-around blue liner, capable of hitting double digits in goals and being strong defensively. His play would help earn him two Norris Trophies and second-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.

Since 2013, Karlsson is one of only three defensemen — Burns and P.K. Subban being the others — to record at least 300 points. Karlsson is third in goals (89) over that stretch with Burns leading the way (116) comfortably.

The key now for Wilson and the Sharks is to sign Karlsson to an extension. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and will command a max deal, whether he reaches UFA status or not. The Sharks are perennial contenders out west and this move certainly keeps them in the conversation for 2018-19 in a crowded field of Western Conference field favorites.

[Karlsson trade gives Sharks NHL’s most explosive defense]

For the Senators, the trade is one of the final parts of the complete teardown of a roster that was a goal away from reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. After moving Karlsson and dealing Mike Hoffman, the big pieces that remain are Bobby Ryan, who still has four years left carrying a $7.25M cap hit; Mark Stone, who signed a one-year, $7.35M deal over the summer; and Matt Duchene, who was acquired last October and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Goaltender Craig Anderson probably could be had if the right offer came along.

It’s all about stockpiling assets to go with a prospect cupboard that features Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, Colin White and Alex Formenton. (And let’s not forget Ottawa’s 2019 first-rounder belongs to the Colorado Avalanche.)

How deep are the Senators entrenched in this rebuild? The headline for the trade press release reads: “Ottawa Senators complete most important trade in rebuild” and the messaging inside keeps on the theme that the future is bright — they just need to keep dealing away their best players.

“This is the right moment for us to rebuild our team, and shape our future with a faster, younger and more competitive team on the ice,” says Senators GM Pierre Dorion in a statement. “We are going to build a culture of consistency which will allow this team to sustain better performance over the long term.”

If you’re wondering, the Sharks visit Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 1.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Would a healthy Thornton make Sharks Pacific Division favorites?

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The offseason is where you fill out your BINGO card of sports cliches, and this post undoubtedly leans on the “best shape of my life trope,” or something close to it.

Yet, you could almost picture the San Jose Sharks pulling out a favorite of a GM after a quiet offseason or trade deadline: “[Injured player] coming back is like landing a big player.” Such a tactic really fits here because a) the Sharks missed out on big-ticket free agents, despite lobbing a hefty offer at John Tavares and b) Joe Thornton is making promising statements about his health.

(Naturally, this marks that key moment where we first tap the brakes and remind you that plenty of athletes believe that they’ve healed, only to aggravate an injury, sometimes even during training camp. So, please, PLEASE don’t use this as a reason to bet your mortgage on the Sharks winning the Stanley Cup or something similar.)

On one hand, people might wonder: “What else is Thornton going to say?” That’s fair, although there are moments when the typical optimism of the summer can’t hide the cloudiness of certain injury updates. You’ll notice that when a player admits they “aren’t quite 100 percent” and other variations.

So, yeah, Thornton’s interview with The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz (sub required) seems promising, and not … too misleading? Hopefully?

“I feel good. I know my birth certificate says 39, but I think not playing a full 82 games and playoffs last year, my body feels really, really good and I feel healthy,” he said. “It’s kind of like a lockout year for myself, you get time to refocus and finally train a little bit and go again. I’m real excited for the year.”

Admittedly, to some extent, it might come down to Thornton’s vivid way with words in Kurz’s story. Adding details such as it almost being “like a lockout year” reminds me of Mike Modano and Teemu Selanne seemingly finding another gear following a full season lost. (Their rebounds didn’t make it worth it, but did dull the pain a bit.)

Of course, it’s one thing to be healthy, and another to actually be effective. Would the already slow-skating Thornton slip from “able to slow the game down” to being too slow to really be viable, much like what seemed to finally happen to Jaromir Jagr in 2017-18?

Again, Thornton had a quip for that, as Kurz reported:

“They’ve said that since I’ve been 16 years old, and I think I’ve had a pretty good career,” Thornton said.

“I think when I’m out there I dictate the play. It doesn’t matter who I play against, I usually dictate the play. I’ve had that criticism for 22 years. I think I’ve kept up pretty good.”

That’s the challenge with sports: an athlete is able to defy critics … until they can’t any longer. We can’t really know that until we actually see Thornton in action, and it’s possible that the sublime passer might not hit his groove right off the bat.

Let’s dig a bit deeper, and consider what this could mean for the Sharks.

Better than we remembered?

Much like David Krejci, Thornton was more effective than maybe some of us might recall in 2017-18, with some of those hazy memories influenced by lower totals thanks to missed games.

Thornton was limited to 36 points (though with 13 goals, thanks to shooting luck), yet he did that in just 47 contests. His .77 point-per-game average would translate to a 63-point output over 82 games. That’s fantastic stuff, especially since Thornton has developed into an increasingly effective two-way performer as San Jose’s spread the scoring wealth a bit.

A reasonably healthy Thornton could tie the Sharks roster together like a Lebowski rug, and I don’t say that just because Thornton’s beard may be lush enough to serve as a rug itself.

Greater expectations?

The Sharks already looked dangerous after landing Evander Kane, going 12-6-1 and sweeping the Ducks before the Golden Knights knocked them out, and that was with Thornton unable to play.

With Thornton, the Sharks could put together two dynamic forward combos (possibly Kane – Logan Couture, Thornton – Joe Pavelski), surround them with some other nice forwards (Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl come to mind), roll out two world-class defensemen (Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic), and deploy a respectable starting goalie in Martin Jones.

A healthy Thornton may also inspire GM Doug Wilson to push more chips to the middle of the table; maybe he’d go after Max Pacioretty, even as a rental, if it becomes clear that Joe is the difference-maker they expected?

It was disappointing for the Sharks to miss out on Tavares, along with some other big names. Those letdowns may sting further if Ilya Kovalchuk looks Thornton/Jagr-level ageless with the Kings.

Regardless, it’s tempting to pencil in San Jose as prohibitive favorites to win the Pacific Division if Thornton is as spry as he claims.

[Where they stand: Pacific Division in July]

Beyond the Sharks’ appealing balance and viable top-end talent, other Pacific teams carry question marks. The Golden Knights were already going to have their skeptics even before Nate Schmidt‘s 20-game suspension was announced. The Kings got Kovalchuk and may have their own healed-up center in Jeff Carter, yet that team has issues ranging from depth to aging concerns. There are worries about Anaheim taking a step back, Calgary once again watching a busy offseason flame out, the Oilers’ idleness haunting them, and the Coyotes still being a few strides short of true competitiveness. There’s also the Vancouver Canucks. They exist.

Back in late July, a small majority (27.32 percent) of PHT readers voted the Sharks as the favorites in the Pacific, edging Vegas (23.61 percent), and that was before this positive outlook on Thornton and the Schmidt news, among other developments.

Plenty can change during the span of the 2018-19 season, and even during training camp, but it’s tough to blame Sharks fans for feeling that much more exciting after today.

In fact, it could get to the point where “Pacific Division favorites” would be thinking far too small.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Three questions facing San Jose Sharks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the San Jose Sharks.

1. What happens to Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton after this season?

Both players have been the face of the franchise for years now, but they’re both well into their thirties which means they might not be around for much longer. Thornton and Pavelski are both heading to unrestricted free agency at the end of the season. That’s familiar territory for Jumbo Joe, who has signed one-year contracts the last couple of years, but it’s going to new for Pavelski.

In Thornton’s case, he’s coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss every game after January 25th, including the playoffs. The 39-year-old managed to put up 13 goals and 36 points in 47 games when he was healthy. Those are respectable offensive totals, but you’d have to think that the Sharks would want to get younger at a certain point.

Also, we don’t know what he’ll look like on the ice after dealing with a serious knee injury. Will he lose another step? Will he be as productive? There’s a bit of a risk for the Sharks here heading into the season. They pursued John Tavares, but struck out. So that means Thornton, who is earning $5 million this year, will have to give them some type of offensive output.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Kane| Breakthrough: Meier]

Pavelski, 34, isn’t young by hockey standards, but he still put up a healthy 66 points in 82 games last season. Looking at the bigger picture though, his point totals have decreased in each of the last three years (78, 68, 66). That’s not a significant drop but given his age, there could be more dropping in the near future.

If Pavelski puts up another 60-point season, it’ll be difficult not to give him a multi-year extension. But GM Doug Wilson will have some tough decisions to make if the production of these two veterans dips even just a little bit. We know that Thornton is willing to sign one-year contracts, but is Pavelski going to do the same thing?

2. Are the Sharks good enough to win the Western Conference?

Sure, the Sharks have some older bodies on their roster like Thornton, Pavelski and Brent Burns, but they also have Logan Couture, who’s just under 30, Evander Kane (27), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (31), Timo Meier (21), Tomas Hertl (24), so they’re balanced in that department.

They could’ve used another boost in scoring during the off-season, but the group of forwards they have isn’t bad at all. They’ve got guys who can score, guys who can skate and guys who can be physical when necessary. The addition and extending of Kane should do wonders for the Sharks this season.

They’re also fairly deep on the blueline, too. Burns, Vlasic and Justin Braun are a solid top-three, while Brendan Dillon, Dylan DeMelo, Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed are depth players. If San Jose can added another depth piece on the back end before the trade deadline, they’ll be in business.

And between the pipes, Martin Jones showed that he can play at a high level. After going through some rocky stretches during the season (Aaron Dell took over at one point), Jones bounced back down the stretch and in the playoffs. He’s already been to one Stanley Cup Final with this team, so why wouldn’t he be able to do it again?

The Sharks aren’t getting any younger, but the window to win is still open. How open it is is still very much up for debate, but, on paper, this is a team that’s still good enough to go head-to-head with the other teams in the Western Conference.

3. Are Brent Burns’ better days behind him?

Burns has been one of the top offensive defensemen of the last five years, but he saw his goal totals drop to 12 (that’s awesome for a regular defenseman). By the 33-year-old’s standards, that’s a significant dip. Over the previous four seasons, he had scored 22, 17, 29, 27, so you can see why 12 is a big drop off for him.

The truth is, Burns got off to an incredibly slow start last season. He didn’t score his first goal until the 21st game of the season and he had just one goal in his first 26 contests. Thankfully for San Jose, he turned it on in early December, as he scored five goals in five games. He also notched 21 points in 15 games between Dec. 7 and Jan. 13.

In the end, Burns finished with 12 goals and 67 points in 82 regular-season games. He also added another seven points during San Jose’s run to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, are his better days behind him? Yeah, probably. But that’s totally normal. He’s logged a lot of minutes over the last few seasons, so it’s only normal that he’s going to slow down at a certain point. But is he totally finished? Absolutely not.

Any defenseman that can score 12 goals and 67 points in a “down” year is a player totally worth keeping. He’s still an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle for the Sharks, and they’ll need him if they want to see this core group of players win a Stanley Cup.

MORE: PHT Time Machine: 1991 dispersal draft and birth of the Sharks

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.