Star defenseman Erik Karlsson does not want to become mired in a rebuild with the San Jose Sharks, and who can blame him? Karlsson signed a long-term extension with the Sharks, who not only had gone to the Western Conference Final in his first season, but were considered one of the most consistent franchises in the NHL and even North American pro sports overall since the turn of the century. While Karlsson certainly didn’t take a discount to stay in San Jose, inking an eight-year, $92MM contract that made him the third-highest paid player in the league at the time, there was an expectation that his re-signing would put the Sharks over the top and keep them contenders for years to come. Yet, last season was an unmitigated disaster, as the team finished with the third-worst record in the league, and so far this year things aren’t looking much better. San Jose is again a bottom-ten team in the NHL and unlikely to make the playoffs. People are starting to get worried, and Karlsson is among them.
Speaking to the media, including San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng, Karlsson stated that “Obviously, I did not sign here to go through a rebuild. [To] go through what I did for 10 years in Ottawa.” However, he did continue on more of an optimistic note. “We need to find a way to build with the core that we have,” Karlsson opined, “I do think we have a good group of guys here.” Karlsson is by no means stating that he wants to be traded, now or in the event that the Sharks continue to struggle this season. Instead, he is seemingly making a public outcry to his own front office, after GM Doug Wilson referred to a “reset” earlier this week, that he feels San Jose has a strong enough core to build upon moving forward rather than tear down and start over.
Karlsson’s comments clearly come from a place of emotion during a difficult time for he and his teammates. Case in point: he vastly overexaggerated the state of the Senators franchise during the early part of his career. Ottawa made the playoffs five times in Karlsson’s nine (not ten) seasons with the team, even coming just one win away from a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2016-17. Only in Karlsson’s final season did they devolve into one of the league’s worst clubs and were truly in need of a rebuild. However, in the midst of his third losing season in the past four years, it seems the losses are starting to weigh on Karlsson and he doesn’t want the team to make matters worse by stripping away the core.
But is he correct that the Sharks can return to relevance as currently constituted? The team has plenty of talent on paper with a blue line of Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl up front. There are also some nice young pieces on the roster like Mario Ferraro and John Leonard, and some intriguing names in the pipeline as well. Yet, it hasn’t shown in their results. Additionally, San Jose has a considerable amount of their cap space for years to come tied up in this core and what space they do have needs to primarily be used to rectify a dire situation in net. The Sharks may find it difficult to add impact players elsewhere on the roster in the meantime. Even if there is space, the team may hesitate to add more expensive pieces to their underperforming group. So, if the team is good enough to avoid a rebuild as Karlsson states, it starts with he and his teammates playing up to expectations and showing just that. Otherwise, the Sharks’ brass will have no choice but to shake things up.