The San Jose Sharks might re-sign Erik Karlsson — but should they?

San Jose Sharks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
San Jose Sharks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Per a recent report from Kevin Kurz of The Athletic, the San Jose Sharks are in talks to re-sign star defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract. But should they?

When the San Jose Sharks acquired star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators back in September, most didn’t expect it to be a long-term pairing. After all, Karlsson had just one year remaining on his contract and the Sharks acquired him in an attempt to go all-in for a Stanley Cup.

Unfortunately, the Sharks fell just short of their goal once again. But oddly enough, the tide has seemingly turned in regards to Karlsson remaining in San Jose.

A recent report from Kevin Kurz of The Athletic appears to indicate that the Sharks are “prepared to offer [Karlsson] an eight-year contract.” The report states that San Jose would offer him somewhere around an eight-year, $88 million contract — like the deal that Los Angeles Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty was inked to last July.

The upcoming offseason will be a busy one with monumental decisions to be made for general manager Doug Wilson.

Apart from Karlsson, the likes of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi are all set to hit unrestricted free agency. On top of that, promising wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will also likely be demanding pay bumps as they’re set to become restricted free agents.

All of this means that Wilson will certainly have his hands full. And with so many key players hitting the open market, is it really worth it to invest top dollar into Karlsson, especially given the money they already have invested into their defense?

We all know Karlsson is an elite player and perhaps the most offensively-skilled defenseman in the NHL — when healthy that is. Unfortunately, health has been a bit of an issue for Karlsson over the past few years as he’s yet to play in a full 82-game season since the 2015-16 season back three years ago.

In fact, his most injury-riddled season came this past year with the Sharks as the four-time NHL All-Star played in just 53 games dealing with a lingering groin injury. And even when he did play, it was clear he wasn’t at 100%.

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Head coach Peter DeBoer went as far as to claim that the Sharks only got a glimpse of a healthy Karlsson for six weeks of the entire season. That could explain his career-low output of just three goals, although his 42 assists in 53 games turned out to be his best ratio in over three seasons.

The playoffs were particularly kind to Karlsson as well as he totaled 16 points in 19 games despite playing with an injured groin. While he had a few defensive blunders, it’s clear that a healthy Karlsson is undoubtedly one of the best defensemen in the league.

So then what’s the hold-up?

The Sharks are the only team that could offer him an eight-year contract and if reports are to be believed, they likely won’t be outbid. Karlsson has made it clear that he wants to play for a contender and he’s also spoken very highly of his stay in San Jose.

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It seems like a perfect plan. But not so fast.

Re-signing Karlsson would have major implications on the other decisions the Sharks make in free agency — most notably surrounding captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski will turn 35-years-old in July but he’s coming off a season in which he scored 38 goals — the second-most in his 13-year career.

The former All-Star has been a career member of the Sharks and is beloved by the fanbase, but re-signing Karlsson would significantly decrease the chances of bringing him back. With right around $25 million in cap space, there just likely wouldn’t be room to bring both back while still re-signing the likes of Thornton, Donskoi, Meier, and Labanc.

Now, the Sharks could look to free up a bit of cap space by letting Donskoi walk and cutting loose/trading players such as Justin Braun and Aaron Dell who will each be on the final year of their contracts.

Still, it’s going to be a tight squeeze no matter how you look at it. But at the same time, is Pavelski really worth the money he’ll be demanding at this point?

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San Jose’s incumbent captain will likely be demanding a three or four-year contract for a sizable chunk of money and it’s fair to wonder if it’s wise to invest that kind of capital in a soon-to-be 35-year-old. Plenty of teams have gotten burned in the past when giving out contracts to players of Pavelski’s age.

At the same time, it’s hard to even factor in the value that Pavelski brought to the team with statistics alone. In many ways, Pavelski was the heart and soul of the San Jose Sharks franchise down the stretch as the team rallied around him following his injury in the Vegas Golden Knights series and erupted for his return later in the postseason.

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He is the team’s captain — both on the ice and off of it. You can’t exactly replace that in free agency.

Ultimately, Wilson certainly has his work cut out for him. Either he finds a way to keep both as a result of some serious cap manipulation or he lets one walk.

Karlsson is the more talented player and is younger, but he fills a role in a position of strength, regardless of his presence, and has a worrisome recent injury history. And then there’s Pavelski who is the riskier signing given his age and own nagging injury history, but is the more valuable player from an emotional standpoint and is arguably harder to replace.

The decision to re-sign Karlsson or not will ultimately come down to whether the team feels it could move on from Pavelski or not — unless Wilson could work some magic and free up some additional cap space.

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It remains to be seen whether it’s the correct decision or not, but it does appear to be trending towards the expected outcome.