San Jose, Calif. — A day after seeing superstar teammate Timo Meier shipped out in a trade with the New Jersey Devils involving 12 other pieces, Erik Karlsson stood at his stall at the San Jose Sharks’ practice facility fielding questions about his future.
He’s been facing them for weeks. Whether he’s yearning for the opportunity to join a contender or not, while in the midst of his best season in six years and on pace to put up the most productive season in Sharks history. But the odds-on favourite for the Norris Trophy, who leads all NHL defencemen with 19 goals and 58 assists, isn’t expecting to be traded at the March 3 deadline.
Even if he’d like to be.
“It sucks in a way,” the 32-year-old said. “It is what it is, unfortunately. But me and my family enjoy it here. We’ve had a good year, and I’m happy playing hockey.
“But to not play important games and have a chance to play in the playoffs is tough, and it’s not something that really intrigues me too much.”
Were it not for Karlsson’s contract, things would assuredly be different.
The Swede counts for $11.5 million on the salary cap for four more years after this one. His actual salary is barely diminishing in three of those years and will still be $7.5 million in the final one. No contending teams could afford to take it on in full at this juncture, and it’s unimaginable the Sharks would be willing to eat the amount of money they’d have to in order to facilitate a trade right now.
When we spoke with one general manager about it two weeks ago, he quipped, “Do you know of any owners willing to pay $20 million to a player to not only not play for them but play on a rival team?”
It wasn’t surprising to hear Sharks GM Mike Grier tell San Jose reporters Sunday, after completing the Meier trade to redeem multiple picks, top prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin and other prospects, say a Karlsson deal was essentially off the table.
“I mean, there’s teams that still always want to check in,” Grier said. “When you’ve got a great player like that who can make a difference and maybe win you the Stanley Cup, I think there’s always a little bit of interest. But at the same time, I think with five days to go before the deadline to make everything work, it might be something that’s difficult to pull off.
“At the end of the day if someone wants him bad enough, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. I don’t know for sure but at this time I’m anticipating him being here for the rest of the season.”
Karlsson’s not expecting any different.
When he was asked if he’d welcome a trade, he dismissed it even being a possibility.
Karlsson has a full no-movement clause and hasn’t been asked by Grier to lift it.
“It’s never been raised to me, and I think it would be weird if he comes now with three days left to ask me to waive my no-move,” Karlsson said. “We’ve had plenty of time for that. If that was the case, I’m not too worried about anything. I’m just here to play hockey and enjoy my time.”
The chances he remains in San Jose and eclipses Brent Burns to post the Sharks’ best season by a defenceman—Burns had 83 in 2018-19—are very high.
Afterwards, Karlsson trade rumours will once again come into focus.
“Where you can kind of get your ducks in a row and all that, and figure out how to make the money work, it’s probably easier in the offseason,” Grier said.
If there was any doubt Karlsson would welcome that idea then, it was all but removed when he responded to a question about his future with the Sharks beyond this season.
“When you trade a guy like Timo, I don’t think that shows that this is going to be a quick turnaround,” Karlsson said. “It’s unfortunate, but I understand it. I’ve been around the game long enough to understand what needs to be done from an organizational standpoint. It just sucks that I happen to be where I’m at at this stage of my career.”