Cap comparables: Will Sharks regret huge Karlsson contract?

Erik Karlsson’s shot from the top of the circle found its way past Jordan Binnington, getting the Sharks a 1-0 lead in Game 3 against the Blues.

Erik Karlsson decided Monday he needn’t wait for July 1 to arrive before making a decision on his future.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner chose to re-sign with the San Jose Sharks on a maximum-term deal that will make him the NHL’s highest-paid defenceman starting in 2019-20 with an average annual value of $11.5 million.

Whenever a big ticket like this one is inked it has people asking the standard questions: Will the term be regrettable? Is the salary cap hit manageable? Which player or players would I rather have on my team for a similar price?

In terms of direct comparisons to Karlsson’s new deal, there’s really only one contract to look at and it’s the eight-year, $88-million extension Drew Doughty signed with the Los Angles Kings. Doughty essentially set the market for Karlsson when he made things official on July 1, 2018 — Doughty’s $11-million AAV finally starts counting towards the Kings’ cap this upcoming season with his deal and Karlsson’s both set to expire 2027.

Karlsson’s was heavier on signing bonuses than Doughty’s and it comes equipped with a full no-movement clause, which could potentially complicate matters down the line for the Sharks if the quality of Karlsson’s play dwindles. Doughty, on the other hand, has a full no-movement clause for the first four years of his deal then it becomes a modified no-trade clause for the final four years.

Doughty is just one year older than Karlsson but has played 189 more games (regular season and playoffs combined) than his contemporary since 2008-09.

During that stretch, Doughty ranks eighth in scoring among defenders yet none have more points than Karlsson. Doughty also owns a pair of Stanley Cup rings and has finished top-10 in Norris voting in eight of his 11 seasons, winning in 2016. Karlsson has five top-10 finishes with Norris wins in 2012 and 2015.

Karlsson managed to record 45 points in 53 regular-season games and added 16 more points in 18 playoff appearances despite dealing with a lingering groin injury that caused him to miss the team’s final game of the playoffs and one that ultimately required surgery.

However, Sharks management wouldn’t have given this contract to Karlsson if they had any long-term injury concerns

“Last year was an unbelievable run but we didn’t achieve what we set out to do,” Karlsson said in a press release announcing the deal. “But the dedication I witnessed from my teammates, coaches, staff and organization showed me that we all have a great future ahead of us, and that we are capable of fighting for that championship year-in and year-out.”

Karlsson and Doughty are currently the only two blueliners with eight-figure cap hits but there are 12 other defencemen signed to eight-year deals.

— P.K. Subban*: $9-million cap hit through 2022
— Oliver Ekman-Larsson: $8.25-million cap hit through 2027
— John Carlson: $8-million cap hit through 2026
— Brent Burns: $8-million cap hit through 2025
— Victor Hedman: $7.875-million cap hit through 2026
— Aaron Ekblad*: $7.5-million cap hit through 2025
— Kris Letang: $7.25-million cap hit through 2022
— Marc-Edouard Vlasic: $7-million cap hit through 2026
— Brent Seabrook: $6.875-million cap hit through 2025
— Cam Fowler: $6.5-million cap hit through 2026
— Ryan Ellis: $6.25-million cap hit through 2027
— Michael Matheson*: $4.875-million cap hit through 2026
*player signed contract when he was an RFA

(Note: Shea Weber, Ryan Sutuer and Duncan Keith are all on contracts longer than eight years but since they signed their respective deals prior to the CBA being ratified in 2013 those deals are structured differently than the dozen listed above.)

You’ll notice two of Karlsson’s Sharks teammates, Burns and Vlasic, are also locked into monster deals. Short-term that means San Jose will boast a blue line most teams should envy; long-term, depending on how much the salary cap increases in the coming years, these contracts could spell trouble.

Karlsson and Doughty are now two of only 10 players currently slated to have a cap hit of $10 million or more in 2019-20. It’s the two star defencemen, Canadiens goalie Carey Price plus seven franchise forwards.

A contract like this means Karlsson will be expected to continue performing at a Norris Trophy contender level each year until he’s 37. In fact, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are the only two players with a higher 2019-20 cap hit than Karlsson.

Talk about high expectations.


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