SAN JOSE – Erik Karlsson doubts the San Jose Sharks will be able to quickly turn around their fortunes with leading goal scorer Timo Meier now a member of the New Jersey Devils.
General manager Mike Grier expressed optimism Sunday that the haul of players and draft picks he received from the Devils in exchange for Meier will help the Sharks become a playoff contender sooner rather than later.
Meier is on pace to score over 40 goals this season and his trade to the Devils leaves a huge hole within the Sharks’ top-six forward group. Although the Sharks have improved their prospect pool, and now have 11 picks in this year’s deep NHL Draft, there’s no one else in the organization capable of filling the void left behind by the trade.
There are no guarantees it’ll ever be filled, at least not soon.
“You trade a guy like Timo, I don’t think that shows that this is going to be a quick turnaround,” Karlsson said Monday. “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 perspective.
“It just sucks that I happen to be where I’m at at this stage of my career.”
Karlsson, 32, is having a season not seen by an NHL defenseman in over 30 years. Going into Tuesday’s game with the Montreal Canadiens, Karlsson leads all defensemen in goals (19), assists (58), and points (77), as he’s on pace to become the first blueliner to finish a season with over 100 points since Brian Leetch had 102 points for the New York Rangers in 1991-1992.
Still, for the fourth straight year, Karlsson will not be a part of the postseason, as the Sharks (18-30-12) entered Monday 22 points out of a playoff spot with 22 games left to play.
The Sharks are one of the worst teams in the NHL at keeping the puck out of their own net at 5-on-5, and goaltending remains a huge question mark going forward. The Sharks have a team save percentage of .884, third-worst in the 32-team NHL, and have only one goalie with sizeable NHL experience signed for next season in Kaapo Kahkonen.
In the four seasons since they signed Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million deal in June 2019, the Sharks are 100-131-37 for a .442 points percentage that ranks 28th in the league.
Karlsson has four years left on his contract, which carries an average annual value of $11.5 million.
“It sucks in a way. But like I’ve said before, my family and I enjoy it here, I’ve had a good year and I’m happy playing hockey,” Karlsson said. “But to not play important games and have a chance to play in the playoffs, it’s not something that really intrigues me too much.”
Sunday’s trade sent Meier and defenseman Scott Harrington to New Jersey and brought back the Devils’ 2023 first-round draft pick, a conditional 2024 first-round selection, defensemen Shakir Mukhamadullin and Nikita Okhotiuk, and forwards Fabian Zetterlund and Andreas Johnsson.
Zetterlund and Johnsson were traveling to San Jose on Monday and indications were they would be able to play Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to flip this around more quickly than some people might expect after this trade,” Grier said Sunday.
Grier added that he anticipates keeping Karlsson through Friday’s deadline, given how complex any potential trade would be for the two-time Norris Trophy winner. Karlsson does not see a scenario where he gets traded this week, either.
“I haven’t really given it too much thought. I haven’t been asked about anything,” Karlsson said. “Obviously with my contract situation, they wouldn’t be able to do it without my consent and we haven’t had those discussions yet. (Grier) hasn’t approached me all season about anything.
“I think it’d be weird if (Grier) comes out with three days left to ask me to waive my no move. We’ve had plenty of time for that if that was the case, so I’m not too worried about it. I’m just here to play hockey and enjoy my time.”
Karlsson reiterated that he enjoys playing for the Sharks’ new coaching staff and likes the camaraderie with his teammates in the dressing room.
“We enjoy it here. I’ve had a lot of fun this year, and I’m going to continue to have that,” he said. “The other things that you can’t control and you can’t do much about. Yeah, it does suck that we’re in the situation that we’re in and we’re not fighting for a playoff spot. It’s going to be another year where we’re going to go home early, but that’s the tough part of the business.
“So, just staying in the now and trying to enjoy each day. I’ve been doing a good job with that so far, and I expect to keep that up for the rest of the season.”