The San Jose Sharks’ season has come to an end, and with it all eyes now turn to their stable of unrestricted free agents. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton have both indicated that they would like to return to the team if possible, while Gustav Nyquist could also be retained if he made a strong enough impact on GM Doug Wilson. But the name everyone is talking about is Erik Karlsson, who is poised to be one of the very top free agents in the class if he decides to take his talents to the open market on July 1. Today, Karlsson tweeted a thank you to the San Jose organization and city, which immediately threw hockey fans all over the world into a frenzy speculating on what it means.
As fans try to decipher what Karlsson meant, Joe Smith of The Athletic (subscription required) takes a more level-headed approach to his speculation and examines how the Tampa Bay Lightning could potentially fit the superstar into their locker room. Most notably, Karlsson is good friends with Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman and has expressed an interest in playing with his old junior teammate in the past. That of course would require plenty of salary cap surgery from the Lightning, who have their own financial issues coming with the pending contract for RFA Brayden Point.
So if not San Jose or Tampa Bay, where? The New York Rangers have been suggested, given their ample cap space and Karlsson’s relationship with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are starting to turn the corner on their rebuild and are about to add another top talent with the second-overall pick. A player like Karlsson could perhaps turn them into playoff contenders as early as 2019-20 if they chose to pursue him.
It’s not like his next contract won’t come with risk however. Karlsson has battled several lower-body injuries over the last few seasons and was forced out of the playoffs recently, which some believe will have an impact on his earning potential this summer. He’ll turn 29 in a week’s time, and has a lot of miles on his body already from a career that has seen him log more than 23 minutes a night in all but his rookie season. He played just 53 games for the Sharks during the regular season, though he still recorded 45 points in that time and was a possession monster.
So where will Karlsson end up? Will the Sharks decide he’s too good to let walk into free agency and offer him the Drew Doughty-like long-term contract he was looking for last summer? Or does he take his talents to the east coast and play with one of his national team friends? Does another team—perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights, who have pursued him heavily in the past—knock on his door when the interview period opens in a month’s time? Cast your vote below and make sure to leave a comment!
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