June 17, 2019

Pucks on the 'Net: Erik Karlsson

The days leading up to the NHL draft and then into free agency are probably the most interesting days of the year in hockey.

Once the Stanley Cup is awarded, all teams are back on even ground. The new season has begun, as far as I am concerned, because all the headlines created in the next two or three weeks are for the 2019-20 season and beyond.

So let's start looking at these headlines, starting with San Jose re-signing Erik Karlsson before he hit the open market.

The pundits always said Erik Karlsson would command top dollar, and he certainly got that from San Jose. Many wondered if San Jose would be able to keep Karlsson at this price, with names like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Kevin Labanc, Tim Meier and Gustav Nyquist, along with role players Michael Haley and Tim Heed.

Under Wilson's tutelage the Sharks are known as a model franchise not because of their top end talent but their impressive pipeline of supporting talent. The model probably should have had the Sharks letting Karlsson walk and keeping their depth. Tough decisions lie ahead and players will leave as salary cap casualties. Now it looks like their depth will be depleted notably. We will have to see if the pipeline is ready to fill the gap.

The fascinating question now is who is leaving? Do not think it is Joe Pavelski just because he's the biggest ticket remaining. The only way the life long Shark and team captain leaves San Jose is if he wants to. The Sharks will figure something out there, and with Meier and Lebanc too, likely at the expense of names like Justin Braun, Brenden Dillon, Marcus Sorenson and Melker Karlsson.

Nyquist and Donskoi are likely left unsigned, but what becomes of Joe Thornton? The veteran will only play hockey in one other spot outside of San Jose, and that's in Davos, Switzerland where has previously mused about finishing career. Thornton could do quite well financially in Switzerland, where his wife is from, but money likely isn't his biggest concern at this stage of his long career. It's just a matter of how much of a discount he will give to stay in San Jose.

Of course much of this could be alleviated if the Sharks could move Evander Kane and his $7-plus million cap hit. Kane has a no trade clause to all but three teams in the league, so he's far from an easy move. He still has a rap as a bit of a headache for teams, though he had a really good year in San Jose. His playoffs were a little less impressive.

Somehow Doug Wilson and the Sharks always gets things done. My bet is the Sharks will be back near the top next year, not just because of the big contracts they're handing out, but rather because of the next generation of Sharks talent about to join the team. Dylan Gambrell had a good first year in the AHL and Lukas Radil will get more ice time. Julius Bergman, Radim Simek and Joakim Ryan should get looks on the blue line. Tim Heed could return on a cheap, short deal.

These are mostly short term plugs that the Sharks are hoping their top end talent can get by with. Outside of defenseman Ryan Merkley, the Sharks don't have many notable prospects in their system right now. Expect that to be Wilson's next focus to address going forward.

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