“Justin has been an important part of our organization since we drafted him in 2007 and over that time, we have seen him develop not only as a player on the ice but as a man,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “He has played a large role in our team’s success since joining the Sharks roster, including appearing in three Conference Finals and competing for the Stanley Cup in 2016. I want to thank Justin and his wife, Jessie, for their commitment to the Sharks organization and wish them all the best in their future.”
In the wake of the Karlsson extension Wilson needed to shed some salary off the Sharks’ cap. This trade does that, freeing up $3.8M from their books for the 2019-20 NHL season. Braun has one year left on his deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
“I think there’s been more conversation, more communication between the GMs in the last month than maybe ever since I’ve been a GM,” Wilson said. “There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”
Erik Karlsson had no wanderlust to test the free agent market before re-signing in San Jose.
”I never thought outside that box,” Karlsson said. ”I’m happy that it didn’t get to that.”
A handful of other teams aren’t so happy because the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman would have been the best unrestricted free agent available. Karlsson signing a $92 million, eight-year contract with the Sharks is the first big off-ice development since St. Louis won the Stanley Cup because of all the ramifications it could have on the NHL offseason.
With Karlsson off the board, any team looking for a No. 1 defenseman has to either hope veteran Alexander Edler doesn’t re-sign with the Canucks and win that bidding war or go the trade route. Salary-cap concerns for San Jose, Washington and a handful of other Cup contenders could open the door to some significant player movement even before free agency starts July 1.
”I think there’s been more conversation, more communication between the GMs in the last month than maybe ever since I’ve been a GM,” San Jose’s Doug Wilson said Monday. ”There’s so much competition, especially for the high-end player. … There’s a lot of things going on.”
Less than 24 hours after Karlsson signed, the dominoes began to fall.
Karlsson was linked to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, and it took less than 24 hours for the first direct responses to him re-signing with the Sharks. New York on Monday night acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Jets, and Tampa Bay on Tuesday re-signed veteran Braydon Coburn to a $3.4 million, two-year deal – cap space it likely would have needed for Karlsson if he was available.
San Jose needed to clear room and did some of that by trading defenseman Justin Braun and his $3.8 million cap hit to Philadelphia for a 2019 second- and 2020 third-round draft pick.
The trade talk is just heating up ahead of the draft Friday and Saturday in Vancouver. Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang and Nashville’s P.K. Subban are among the high-profile players who could be on the move.
”There’s lots of things on the go,” Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. ”It’s probably an unprecedented time of conversation.”
Many of the moves that come from those conversations will set the table for free agency, where Columbus winger Artemi Panarin, center Matt Duchene and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky are the top three players available.
”It’s a pretty good class this year,” Colorado GM Joe Sakic said. ”(We) already have targeted players in mind if they become available that we’ll want to talk to about joining our club. We see positions of need, of what we’re looking to do. There’s a few guys we’re going to want to talk to if they become available. We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody.”
Sakic’s Avalanche have the most projected cap space in the league with $36 million, according to PuckPedia . The Flyers and rival New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Islanders will also have cap space to burn and a need for an elite defenseman or two.
”They’re not easy to find,” Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said. ”Certainly, if we can find a guy that can play in our top four that we’d have the ability to acquire, we’ll certainly look at it.”
BUT FIRST, THE DRAFT: New Jersey is widely expected to select American center Jack Hughes first overall, leaving Finnish winger Kaappo Kakko for the Rangers.
”Obviously one team’s going to indicate to us exactly how it might go for the rest of the draft,” Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said. ”I think we’re in a good spot. We know that we’re going to get a really good player no matter what happens to us.”
Chicago picks third and will get a nice boost to aid its turnaround after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.
BITE OUT OF SHARKS: Committing $11.5 million a year to Karlsson cuts significantly into San Jose’s offseason maneuvering with Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi set to be unrestricted free agents and emerging star Timo Meier needing a new contract as a restricted free agent.
”Under a cap system, choices and decisions need to be made,” Wilson said, not ruling out bringing back Pavelski and others. ”I don’t think anybody should rush to conclusions on anything. There’s many ways to accomplish different things.”
RUSSIAN PACKAGE DEAL: Panarin and Bobrovsky played together with the Blue Jackets for two seasons and are hitting free agency at the same time. When Panarin switched agents to be represented by Bobrovsky’s agent, Paul Theofanus, it raised eyebrows that the Russian countrymen might want to go to the same team.
With some creative roster work, the Florida Panthers could be the ideal landing spot for Panarin and Bobrovsky and go from close to the playoffs to real contenders.
CAPITALS CONCERNS: Even though Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are no longer reigning Cup champions, winger Carl Hagelin insisted he wouldn’t have signed an $11 million, four-year contract with them if he didn’t think they could win it again over that time. To do so, GM Brian MacLellan will have to navigate a difficult cap situation around pending free agent winger Brett Connolly and restricted free agent Andre Burakovsky and knowing deals with center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby expire next summer.
”I hope (Connolly and Burakovsky are) still here,” Hagelin said. ”But at the end of the day, Conno, he’s a UFA so it’s up to him what he wants. You understand if a guy tests the market to see what’s out there. But I hope both of those guys come back.”
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
After the Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to that megalodon of an extension on Monday, the already-thin free agent market for defensemen dried up that much more. It’s tempting to depict that group as a tumbleweed rolling through a dusty town.
Of course, that’s not totally fair.
There are a few good defensemen available, at least if teams find the right combination of contract and role.
Unfortunately, things aren’t always so sober when demand simply can’t meet supply, as there simply aren’t a lot of great UFA options when it comes to defensemen. Scratch that: there simply aren’t a lot of passable UFA options, at least when you consider likely price tags.
Let’s start with Jake Gardiner, who in my opinion is the best option potentially available, and then contrast Gardiner with Tyler Myers, who stands out as a huge risk for less savvy NHL teams.
Also, a quick note: there’s a chance that some of these defensemen will just return to their current teams, rather than hitting the free agent market. So keep that in mind, too.
Jake Gardiner: The 28-year-old has been the Maple Leafs’ second-best defensemen for some time now, which may rank as a curse more than anything else. Every mistake is magnified, and every wart shines under the spotlight.
Overall, Gardiner is a very productive scoring defenseman – throwing out lockout seasons, he’s only failed to reach 30+ points once – and tends to check out pretty well from a possession standpoint.
Gardiner isn’t perfect, but he’s every good, particularly when you realize just how tough it is to land quality blueliners. If I were a GM who absolutely needed to get better on defense now, and couldn’t pull off a trade, Gardiner would be far and away my target. But, if he gets paid too much, then Gardiner will be a go-to scapegoat. Sadly, that’s just how sports work.
Looking at Evolving Wild’ssalary projections spreadsheet, a potential Gardiner contract would clock in at seven years, with just less than $7 million in AAV. That term leads me to believe that Gardiner would eventually become a source of harsh scorn, but really, giving scary term away is just the nature of the beast. (I’m a huge proponent for Erik Karlsson, but that deal adds a huge block to what was already a wobbly Jenga puzzle that is the Sharks’ salary structure.)
I don’t know if $7M-ish is ideal for Gardiner, and big term would scare me, but teams could do worse, especially if they’re really opening up their wallets.
Tyler Myers: While Gardiner tends to shoulder too much blame, Myers sometimes gets a free pass from hockey people.
Those hockey people see a massive 29-year-old defenseman who can score, and who can skate remarkably well for his size. For whatever reason, many look away from Myers’ mistakes more than they would with Gardiner, and that’s a problem since Myers takes away more from the table than someone like Gardiner does.
The red flags become flashing neon signs the deeper you look.
Sean Tierney’sVisualization uses Evolving Wild’s GAR metrics to provide a snapshot of certain player values, and it’s eye-popping to see how poorly Myers checks out, including looking worse than Dmitry Kulikov, a defenseman the Jets should be eager to trade away for cap space:
To be clear: I’m not saying that Myers can’t be the type of player who would help a team. Instead, I’m saying that he profiles as someone who will cost way too much, and thus will be asked to do too much, and there’s a strong chance that an expensive mistake would be made.
Alexander Edler: For the second season in a row, the veteran defenseman scored 34 points, and this last time he did so in just 56 regular-season games. The 33-year-old generally brings a respectable two-way game to the table, too, so there’s some appeal there.
Edler’s an interesting choice if a team can stomach forking over a fairly beefy cap hit, but doesn’t want to hand out the sort of term Gardiner-types likely will demand.
At 33, there’s definitely a risk of a plummet, especially if Edler mainly looks promising compared to a rough group of Canucks defensemen, and might not be that much of a difference-maker on a contender.
So, there are some worries … but Edler is one of the better options beyond Gardiner, at least if you’re talking about more prominent choices (assuming he makes it to UFA status).
Anton Stralman – There was a time when Stralman was underrated, but now the risk is that a team’s view of the Swede would be steeped in the past. Stralman’s not the same player at 32, and the projected cost of $4.5M AAV for three years is downright scary for a potential suitor.
Now, could Stralman be a reclamation project if he fell into a PTO-type situation? That would be a fair question to ask. Actually, most of the veterans on this list should be approached that way. If you like a guy, don’t splurge early and heighten your risks. Instead, hope for a tepid market, and strike. If not? Chances are, you saved yourself money and a roster spot.
Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth – On one hand, you could make bigger mistakes. On the other hand … are you sure that you can’t get similar value from a prospects climbing to the NHL?
Ron Hainsey, Deryk Engelland – Two players who’ve generally exceeded low expectations lately. Unfortunately, that only means so much, and you can’t ignore just how old they are. Hainsey is 38, and Engelland is 37. Veterans like these can get a salary boost because of past accomplishments, and that could be enough to drop them from “Eh” to “Oh no.”
If you’re like me, you’ve grimaced at quite a few names on this list, or at best shrugged your shoulders.
To reiterate, not every hypothetical situation ends in disasters. PHT will monitor this offseason for that very reason: maybe a team will be creative in making something work, or conversely, make huge mistakes based on faulty assumptions.
As far as moves that can be truly substantial, Gardiner stands out as the most appealing option; even then, handing Gardiner big money and big term is pretty scary. So … the UFA route ultimately seems like a perilous one, at least for defensemen.
That’s a hefty chunk of change for one of the game’s premier rearguards, and rightly so. A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson has game-breaking capabilities from the back end. It’s not surprising that he’s one of the highest paid players in the NHL.
But behind the elation general manager Doug Wilson is feeling at the moment, there also has to be a bit of trepidation.
With Karlsson’s contract expected to be in the $11.5 million AAV region, that leaves the Sharks with roughly $13 million in cap space remaining and only 16 players signed, including 11 forwards.
It’s safe to assume that the end of an era is coming for someone in the Bay Area.
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are both unrestricted free agents come July 1. Thornton has signed one-year deals with the club for several years now. Pavelski enters the free agent arena for the first time in five seasons after completing the final year of a five-year, $30 million deal.
Both are integral parts of the Sharks. And the Sharks may have to let them walk this time.
At 39, Thornton’s on-ice play isn’t worth the $5 million he made last season. He’s the de facto leader of the team, but the Sharks simply can’t afford him at that price point again. If they want him back, a low-salary, bonus-laden contract could be an option.
Losing Pavelski, their captain, would also be a blow.
Despite being 34 (35 next season), Pavelski had 38 goals and 64 points in 75 games last season. Not bad for $6 million, and perhaps he goes the Thornton route for a few years and signs one-year deals that allow the Sharks some breathing room.
Does Pavelski deserve a longer-term commitment? Sure. But the Sharks are once again going all-in with the Karlsson signing and this might be Pavelski’s best shot at a Stanley Cup ring as a captain of the team.
Aside from the two superstars, the Sharks need to make sure they lock down some of their younger talent.
Evolving Wild has Meier taking a six-year deal with a cap hit close to $6 million while Labanc is more affordable at three years and around $3.5 million.
Remember, the Sharks have $13 million to play with following the Karlsson extension.
For the sake of argument, let’s say Pavelski gets $7 million and Thornton gets $5 million. That’s $12 million and roughly $1 million left on the cap.
See the problem? And how many extensions do the Sharks want to give older players? Logan Couture‘s six-year, $8 million AAV deal kicks in next season. He’s 30. Brent Burns, 34, has six more years left on a deal that’s paying him the same amount as Couture per season.
The Sharks only need to look further down on a California state map to see Los Angeles and the devastating effects handing big contracts to old players can have.
Still, banners fly forever and the Kings have two of them and the Sharks have zero.
The Sharks could sell off some assets, too, including a Justin Braun ($3.8 million, one year left) or a Brenden Dillon ($3.2 million, one year left) on the back end for some cap relief.
And the point of this exercise is that someone has to go.
The most coveted pending free agent defenseman won’t be making it to the dance.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Monday that “all signs” point to two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson re-signing with the Sharks, the only team that can offer the talented 29-year-old Swede an eight-year deal.
Not long after, fellow TSN insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the deal was done.
“We are extremely pleased that Erik and his wife Melinda have committed to the San Jose Sharks and that they have done so prior to July 1,” said Sharks general manager Doug Wilson in a statement. “Players with Erik’s elite level of talent are rare and when they become available, it’s important to be aggressive in pursuing them. He is a difference maker who consistently makes the players around him better. We are pleased that he has been proactive in addressing his injury from last season and are looking forward to him being part of our organization for a long time to come.
The Sharks wouldn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but according to McKenzie it’s in the $11.5 million per year range, making the total worth of the contract around $92 million. — in the realm of the $88 million Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty got last year.
Erik Karlsson #Sharks 8 years / $11.5M AAV ($92M Total)
The deal is the largest in Sharks’ history, besting both Brent Burns‘ and Logan Couture‘s eight-year, $64 million extensions.
The deal keeps Karlsson from hitting the open market, of course, on July 1. It also makes sure he doesn’t hit the courting period, which begins on June 23. The Sharks were the only team that could offer Karlsson the max eight years.
“I’m super excited to continue my journey with the Sharks,” said Karlsson. “Since my first day here, I have only good things to say about the people, organization and the fans. The entire Bay Area has been extremely welcoming to me and my family. I appreciate that and we can’t wait to spend the next eight years in San Jose.
“As far as hockey goes, I’m excited to continue the chase for the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. Last year was an unbelievable run but we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. But the dedication I witnessed from my teammates, coaches, staff and organization showed me that we all have a great future ahead of us, and that we are capable of fighting for that championship year in and year out.”
San Jose’s gain is a big loss to a few other teams that were in contention, including the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, among others reported — perhaps even a stunning return to Ottawa, as reported earlier this month.
Karlsson was traded to the Sharks last summer by the Senators, the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2008 and one he put on his back in 2017 as the Sens marched to the Eastern Conference Final before losing in overtime in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
At the time, the move appeared to provide the Sharks with a defensive core to die for.
Karlsson joined Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other solid pieces that were supposed to carry the Sharks deep into the playoffs.
“It’s extremely rare that players of this caliber become available,” Wilson said at the time of the trade. “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. With Erik, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, we feel we have three of the NHL’s top defencemen and stand as a better team today than we were yesterday.”
Karlsson started slow with the Sharks but regained his stride along the way, finishing with 45 points in 53 games. But it’s that game total that was a big issue throughout the year.
Karlsson dealt with multiple groin injuries right up until the Sharks were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final. Karlsson had to watch the decisive Game 6 in that series from the press box as the nagging problem.
It’s not the ideal season, but the Sharks appear fine with gambling on that groin after Karlsson had surgery on it earlier this month.
It will be interesting to see how the Sharks navigate the salary cap after the Karlsson deal. It appears someone will have to go from the UFA pack of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. Thornton and Pavelski would command the most in terms of dollars (perhaps there’s room for one-year, low-salary, bonus-laden contracts for both.
Meanwhile, attention for a top-pairing defenseman should now shift to Winnipeg Jets rearguard Jacob Trouba.
Trouba’s a restricted free agent but is likely to be dealt at some point this week or at the 2019 NHL Draft this coming weekend. A 50-point d-man last year, Trouba is a solid top-pairing defenseman that can play in all phases of the game.
The issue with Trouba at the moment is that any team willing to pay Winnipeg’s price tag needs to be darn certain they can extend him.