Thursday, November 30 2023

The San Jose Sharks are reportedly looking to move Erik Karlsson, which is a logical idea when you’re a team coming off a 60-point season with a 33-year-old superstar on your hands.

Put that way, there’s nothing unusual about the Karlsson trade market that’s shaping up, but the combination of player and contract is unlike any that’s been moved before.

Karlsson is likely on the way to winning his third Norris Trophy this offseason, which would place him among just nine players to accomplish that feat. Even if there’s an upset on NHL Awards night, he’ll be one of just 13 defenceman to win the award twice (14 if Adam Fox steals it).

While the Sharks deciding they are better off building around younger players makes sense, it’s worth noting that blueliners with at least two Norris Trophy wins are players most teams are desperate to hold onto.

When Karlsson came to San Jose in the first place he was only the second player to be traded in his twenties after earning at least two Norris wins, joining Paul Coffey. Most of the time, if blueliners of this calibre are moved, it’s near the end of their careers.

Think Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche, Brian Leetch to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pierre Pilote also to the Leafs — Toronto’s tendency to snap up old guys hoping to achieve playoff glory isn’t just a recent phenomenon — or Chris Chelios to the Detroit Red Wings. Of course, Chelios went on to play until he was 48, but the Chicago Blackhawks probably thought he was close to done when they traded him at 37.

Erik Karlsson is a completely unique trade asset. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)Erik Karlsson is a completely unique trade asset. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Erik Karlsson is a completely unique trade asset. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Even though he’s 33, Karlsson doesn’t fit that category.


It’s tough to argue that a defenseman is in the midst of his decline phase when he just posted an 101-point season. There have only been 15 triple-digit point seasons from defenders in NHL history, and unsurprisingly, no player has been traded directly after producing one.

All of that context makes Karlsson an oddity as a trade asset, but where things get even stranger is when his contract is considered. The Swedish defenseman’s cap hit of $11.5 million is the fifth-highest in the NHL and if San Jose moves him it would be the most expensive deal to change hands in the league’s history.

Not only is that a massive deal for any team to accommodate, it’s unclear whether Karlsson can deliver production that justifies it in the years to come. The star defenseman produced at that level in 2022-23, but last season was an outlier for him in a number of ways.

While Karlsson just played a full 82, he was only able to participate in 72.8% of the Sharks’ games in the previous four seasons — never topping 56 games in one campaign. In that span between 2018-19 and 2021-22, the Swede ranked 28th among defensemen in points (142).


There are also some statistical indicators that his 2022-23 offensive production was juiced by some good fortune. His shooting percentage (12.0%) was nearly double his career average (6.9%), and his on-ice shooting percentage at even strength (11.2%) also topped his career norm (8.9%) by a significant margin.

The total package is a player who justified his lofty contract in his most recent season, but did so with atypical durability and luck. Those factors may elude him in the years to come, especially as he enters his mid-thirties.

That creates a situation where retaining significant salary will be a must for the Sharks to facilitate this deal. Karlsson’s contract runs until he’s 37 and other NHL teams simply won’t project him to be the guy he was in 2022-23 over the next four years.

In the immediate term, that isn’t an issue for San Jose.


The Sharks don’t project to be a contender in the next two years or so, but in 2025-26 and 2026-27 carrying around a sizeable chunk of Karlsson’s contract won’t be a desirable prospect. The reason the Sharks want to trade the defenseman in the first place is to benefit their future teams — and they will have no choice put to hamstring themselves in years they hope to turn things around by working with less cap space.

While the threat of salary retention weighing them down in the future shouldn’t dissuade the Sharks from making a move that makes their future better on balance, it will take some bite out of the return they receive for Karlsson.

In the weeks to come, San Jose will have a difficult time navigating the defenseman’s market — something they’ll have to do with his cooperation considering he has a no-movement clause. He is the type of rare talent that a number of teams could easily see improving their team significantly, but his contract makes him difficult to trust as a value proposition.

San Jose won’t have any precedent to rely in on in their journey to get strong value for a future Hall of Famer coming off a career season. We’ve never seen a move like the one the Sharks are trying to make, and as good as Karlsson is, it’ll be a tough one for them to pull off.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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