When they traded Erik Karlsson in 2018, the San Jose Sharks were expecting elite play from him. The organization coughed up Dylan Demelo, Rudolfs Balcers, Chris Tierney, and Josh Norris to the Ottawa Senators, as well as an unprotected 2020 first-round pick, which became Tim Stützle.
There is no doubt that the Sharks are great. Trade lostKarlsson has been playing his best hockey in the Bay Area since his move to 2021-22. He is still not performing up to the level the organization had hoped, but we’re beginning to see the silver lining.
Karlsson’s Offensive and Defensive Production
Karlsson was more offensively productive than 2020-21. 22 points (8 goals and 14 assists) in 28 games. These numbers are identical to his 52-game total from last season. If he continues to score at this rate, he will be able add 8 more goals and 15 assists before the 52-game mark.
Of course, offensive production is not the main indicator of a defenseman’s ability. Karlsson is a respectable minus-2 compared to last season’s minus-18 rating. These stats do not merit a Norris Trophy. However, they are incrementally more impressive than the two previous seasons. The Sharks can only expect incremental improvement from the 12-year-old veteran.
The Swedish defenseman is still a favorite of the organization, averaging 23 minutes of ice-time per game. Of course, they’d rather see him play than sit the third-highest-paid player in the NHL, but they also didn’t seem to hesitate to make Marc-Edouard Vlasic — worth $7 million AAV until the end of the 2025-2026 season — a healthy scratch against the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 4 (from “Sharks’ Marc-Edouard Vlasic scratched vs. Detroit Red Wings,” Mercury News, Jan. 4, 2022).
However, Karlsson’s improved play might also be thanks to 2021-22 being his First healthy season Since he was traded from San Jose.
Karlsson’s Health Issues
Karlsson’s ability to perform at a high level has been challenged by injury. Karlsson has suffered from injury for much of the past eight seasons. Many of these ailments only became apparent after he moved to San Jose. You can call it bad timing or karma. These are just a few of these issues Karlsson had to overcome:
- 2013— Karlsson A major procedure was required after he tore 70 percent of his Achilles heel. He was just coming off a Norris Trophy year and was widely considered one of the NHL’s best players. At the time, Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean had this to say about the injury: “He’s playing 30 minutes a game, a Norris Trophy winner, arguably the best player in the League. It’s obviously a big loss — but like every injury, it’s somebody’s opportunity. We have to find out who that’s going to be.”
- 2018-19— Karlsson was Forced to leave 29 games during the 2018-19 season due to a severe groin injury. If missing over a third of the season wasn’t enough, he aggravated the injury during the postseason and was forced to sit out Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks were eliminated from contention for the Stanley Cup by that game.
- 2019-20— The 2019-20 season did not get much better for Karlsson. Karlsson is now fully recovered from his groin injury. His thumb was broken in a game against the Winnipeg Jets in February. He was out for the rest of the season.
- 2020-21— Karlsson sat out several games with another groin injury. However, he and the organization mentioned that it was not the same injury that sidelined him for much of the 2018-19 season (from “Erik Karlsson’s timeline for return pushed back by Sharks,” Mercury News, 2/23/2021).
Unfortunately, he was not injury-free this season. Karlsson was injured in the upper bodyHe was beaten by the Red Wings earlier in the month. Although he is unlikely to be out for long-term, it speaks to his continued struggles since arriving in San Jose.
Optimistic About Karlsson’s Future
Karlsson has been having one of his most productive seasons since his time with the Senators. If he is able to avoid injury, he will be able to finish strong. He could easily add 22 more points, but that is only possible if he feels good on the ice.
It’s unlikely he’ll win another Norris Trophy in his career — he is well beyond his prime — but he can still help the Sharks make a push in the postseason. I think he’ll make a huge splash when he returns from this most recent upper-body injury.
Like many Midwest kids, CG played a lot in hockey growing up. His love and appreciation for the game is why he’s here, writing for The Hockey Writers, covering his two favorite teams: the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens. However, he also writes fiction entitled Project: Sleepless Dream. You can find him at Twitter @CGHockeyWriter.