Long-term Karlsson contract the next challenge for Sharks GM

Elliotte Friedman joins SN's Starting Lineup to break down Erik Karlsson's trade to San Jose.

The San Jose Sharks acquired Erik Karlsson without having to give up any of their top prospects. Doug Wilson’s next challenge as the team’s general manager will be to lock up the two-time Norris Trophy winner to a long-term extension.

Wilson is no stranger to awarding lengthy deals as the Sharks currently have five players (Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Martin Jones) locked up through at least 2021-22 and it’s something he’s confident he’ll be able to accomplish with Karlsson too.

“We wouldn’t have done this deal if we weren’t very comfortable of that opportunity, and that’s why I was able to have discussions with their agents and with Erik,” Wilson told Curtis Pashelka in a Q&A with The Mercury News.

Karlsson has one year remaining on his current contract but he’s eligible to re-sign with San Jose for up to eight years. His $6.5-million salary cap hit will be among the top bargains in the NHL in 2017-18 before he presumably gets a significant raise on his next deal.

It’s no secret Drew Doughty’s eight-year, $88-million extension will be in the ballpark of what Karlsson could seek.

“Top players are going to get paid well, they are. And they deserve to get paid well,” Wilson said. “It’s just the distribution of your cap and when you’re trying to build a team trying to win a Stanley Cup, it’s a team-building concept. Joe Thornton (who took a $3-million pay this summer), I can’t even put into words what he does for this organization when it comes to that. My job and my owner’s job is to make this a place players want to play and then once players get here, they’ll do whatever to take care of each other.”

Team captain Joe Pavelski is also entering a contract year and should garner a new long-term deal. It’s unclear what Pavelski’s next cap hit might be, but considering Kane is making $7 million per season and Couture’s cap hit jumps to $8 million starting in 2019, re-signing Pavelski won’t come cheap.

The Sharks already have more than $53.7 million committed for the 2019-20 season and that’s not factoring in what Karlsson and Pavelski might make. Joonas Donskoi is also a pending UFA, while Timo Meier is among the team’s restricted free agents in need of a new deal and pay bump.

In addition to managing a complicated cap situation, Wilson must also consider Karlsson’s injury history during contract negotiations.

The smooth-skating Swede bounced back from an Achilles tear in his fourth season with no lingering issues, and missed the beginning of last season after recovering from off-season ankle surgery, but Wilson said he isn’t concerned about Karlsson’s health or durability going forward.

“We did our research,” Wilson explained. “This guy, he’s tough as nails. … Honestly, I really believe he’s just coming into his prime.”

If Karlsson really is “just coming into his prime” then it certainly bodes well for a rather stacked Sharks team. Karlsson also happens to be joining a contender after a depressing season with the Ottawa Senators.

“Great athletes need to have chances to win,” Wilson added. “Whether they’re going through a rebuilding mode or whatever, it’s one of the reasons why — it’s not judging other people — I would have a very difficult time as a GM going through a rebuilding mode. When you’ve signed high-end players to long-term contracts, and then you’re telling them, ‘Oh, by the way, we don’t have a chance to win.’ It’s just a personal belief. Not having a chance to win would be difficult.”

A freshly motivated Karlsson? That’s a scary thought for teams around the league to ponder.

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