Prime Erik Karlsson was a treat to watch, and despite a tough year for the San Jose Sharks, ’EK65’ is giving us some of his best hockey in years. The 32-year-old has a whopping 10 goals, 12 assists, and 22 points in just 17 games while averaging over 25 minutes per game, his highest mark since arriving in San Jose.
With the team nowhere near playoff contention and leaning more toward rebuilding than ever, Karlsson’s apparent return to form suddenly makes his $11.5MM cap hit look more palatable on the trade market, still with some retention on San Jose’s side. General manager Mike Grier told NHL.com’s Nicholas Cotsonika today that he’ll “listen” to offers on Karlsson before this season’s March 3 trade deadline.
As Grier noted in his interview, a second blockbuster trade involving the Swede won’t be a straightforward process. Karlsson has a full no-movement clause in his contract and controls the outcome of any potential trade. Despite the contractual hurdles to moving him, though, Grier was nothing but complimentary of Karlsson’s play:
“He’s a dynamic player. To me, he’s probably one of the three best offensive defensemen in the League, and he’s been great for us. He’s done everything we’ve asked as far as preparation, practicing, playing. He’s been great. So maybe there’s a scenario where a team comes asking for him [in a trade], because I do think he’s a difference-maker. He’s someone who can go out there and win you a game — or win you a series, for that matter — so maybe something will come up down the road. We’ll see.
Karlsson can absolutely be the difference-maker that Grier claims. Karlsson received Norris Trophy votes in eight straight seasons from 2011-12 to 2018-19, including trophy wins in 2012 and 2015. During that timeframe, Karlsson notched 492 points in 545 games, leading the league’s defensemen in assists and points.
Injuries have been a constant during his last few years in San Jose, though, and his play, while still commendable, hasn’t been at the truly elite level he displayed in his prime with the Ottawa Senators. But in just 17 games this season, Karlsson’s already matched his total point output from two seasons ago in 52 games.
With so many teams close to or above the salary cap using long-term injured reserve, however, moving Karlsson to a contender will be a challenge, even at a 50% retention rate of $5.75MM per season. It’s unlikely a third team would be willing to take on another 50% hit ($2.785MM) until 2027 without significant compensation, though, a much different ask than we’ve seen in past similar three-team trades.
If Karlsson keeps up even 75% of his torrid pace to start the season, though, he remains a top-flight defender that can transform a team’s chances of winning a Stanley Cup for the better.