The San Jose Sharks knew when they paid a substantial price for all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson that there was no guarantee that he would be with the team any longer than the one year remaining on his contract. Karlsson was a rental in some sense, acquired last summer to get the regular season-dominating Sharks over the playoff hump and to their first Stanley Cup title. Still without an extension in place, Karlsson may very well be playing his final games with San Jose; except that he hasn’t been playing at all. Karlsson has missed 16 straight games and 26 of the past 31 with a groin injury and doubts had begun to set in that perhaps Karlsson would not be at full strength or worse yet could be sidelined entirely for the only reason he was acquired: the postseason.
Rest easy Sharks fans, as that doesn’t appear to be the case. Both Karlsson and head coach Peter DeBoer tell NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley that the superstar defenseman will be ready for the playoffs. “I said a month ago I was going to be ready for the playoffs and that’s still the case,” Karlsson reiterated. DeBoer supported the claim, saying “He’ll be ready for the playoffs.” In fact, DeBoer would like to get Karlsson back before the end of the regular season. Karlsson has been ruled out of the Sharks’ Tuesday night match-up, but the team has two regular season games remaining afterward and the head coach would like to see his two-time Norris Trophy-winning mercenary see some game action prior to the postseason beginning. It may not happen, but the decision is being considered, as Deboer stated “I’d like to, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of rushing him, so we’ll see.”
Of course, the concern shifts from Karlsson not being ready for the playoffs to Karlsson still being an injury risk once he returns. The player himself is not thinking that way, saying “I’m not worried about re-injuring it or getting another injury; that’s not the way I approach the game, especially this time of year.” However, that’s exactly what happened earlier this season when Karlsson was forced from a late February game, after missing 10 of the previous 14 contests, and has not played since. Whether Karlsson was simply rushed back too soon or was re-injured is unknown, but the nagging groin injury could strike happen again. With the Sharks already locked in to a first-round collision with the talented Vegas Golden Knights, there’s little room for an absence of Karlsson’s magnitude. If San Jose is going to finally claim an elusive championship this season, they don’t just need Karlsson back for the playoffs, they need him in the lineup throughout the playoffs.