UPDATE: The Sharks have now officially announced the Karlsson extension and it is worth even more than previously believed. Karlsson is set to make $11.5MM on average over an eight-year term for a total of $92MM, according to CapFriendly. That includes $53MM in signing bonuses, largely front loaded in the early years for potential lockout protection, as well as in the final two years to dissuade a buyout. The contract also includes a full No-Movement Clause. There is little doubt remaining that San Jose is all in on Karlsson given these terms, which make Karlsson the highest paid defenseman in NHL history and behind only Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews overall. The Sharks simply have to hope that he can get back to full health and remain that way as long as possible, while those teams that missed out on a chance to court him this summer have to hope that the somewhat underwhelming replacement options don’t drastically increase their asking price.
It’s been an ongoing narrative early this off-season that the San Jose Sharks were willing to do whatever it takes to re-sign Erik Karlsson, after the all-world defenseman played well – when healthy – in his first season with the team. Karlsson is considered not just the top defenseman on the free agent market, but arguably the biggest name overall, and that’s taking into account his injury concerns. Few defensemen in the NHL can do what a healthy Karlsson can offensively and the 29-year-old was set to cash in on the open market. Yet, it seems that GM Doug Wilson and the Sharks have convinced Karlsson that he doesn’t need to test the waters to find a considerable contract and a winning team. TSN insider Bob McKenzie reports that “all signs are pointing” to Karlsson returning to San Jose and colleague Pierre LeBrun follows it up by stating that “a deal is indeed done.”
McKenzie is hardly the first to report that extension talks were getting close between the two sides, but when the respected hockey mind makes a pronouncement like this, it generally carries significant weight. LeBrun thus checked in himself and found previous reports that the two sides were talking about a contract in the neighborhood of Drew Doughty’s eight-year, $88MM contract to be true. LeBrun believes that is will be an eight-year deal worth more than Doughty’s $11MM AAV. This would make Karlsson’s cap hit the third-largest in NHL history.
Unless his negotiating rights were to be traded prior to July 1st, the Sharks were always going to be the only team that could offer Karlsson that valuable eight year. However, it is likely their willingness to move into the double-digit AAV realm that pushed negotiations closer to a resolution. Especially in a season in which Karlsson missed 29 games due to injury, there was plenty of speculation that his value would take a hit on the free agent market, resulting in lesser term or at least a lower dollar value over a long-term deal. Instead, the Sharks seemingly plan to keep Karlsson in town by offering him the same contract he likely would have landed prior to this past season and hope that recent groin surgery solves the nagging soft tissue damage that cost the superstar blue liner so much time this season.
Assuming this extension becomes official shortly, it will have wide-ranging effects. San Jose cannot afford to re-sign Karlsson to this contract and also re-up restricted free agents Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc without making some sacrifices. Priority unrestricted free agents like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, and Joonas Donskoi cannot all return if any can. Signing even one of those players may force the Sharks to move out other salary from the roster. Additionally, per the terms of the original Karlsson trade, San Jose will also surrender a 2021 second-round pick to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for extending their acquisition. As for the rest of the free agent market, one of the top names is now off the board. The demand and thus the price for the next tier of defensemen – Jake Gardiner and Tyler Myers – just went up, as did the cost of bringing in a big name like Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene after both Karlsson and Jeff Skinner received larger contracts than expected.
The greater story here though is that the Sharks’ Stanley Cup window, which some saw as closing if Karlsson, Pavelski, and Thornton were all to leave, has now been extended with the re-signing of one of the game’s best defensemen, so long as he can stay healthy. With Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic together on the blue line for at least six more years and core forwards like Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and soon Meier locked up, the team has strength at both ends and will continue to be a top competitor year in and year out.