Erik Karlsson was not on the ice for the final game of the San Jose Sharks‘ season.
As a pending unrestricted free agent, there’s a decent chance he won’t participate in their next game, either.
As soon as the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Tuesday night, their offseason began. And what an important offseason it will be.
San Jose has numerous players destined to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, including Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but arguably none bigger than Karlsson, whom the Sharks acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators just prior to the start of the season.
As one of the very best defensemen in the NHL, Karlsson will have no shortage of suitors around the league. The Sharks will certainly be considered among the favorites to retain his services and sign him to a long-term contract, but they won’t be alone.
In fact, ESPN reported on Tuesday that the New York Rangers could be a major factor.
“Scuttlebutt around the organization is that (Karlsson) likes the Sharks and the Bay Area,” ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and Chris Peters wrote following San Jose’s Game 6 loss, “yet there has always been speculation that he could return back east — the loudest chatter during the playoffs was a potential match with old friend Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. Needless to say, the 28-year-old remains the elite of the elite when he’s healthy, and would be a foundational asset for the Sharks. But after the playoffs, his health can’t be trusted or assumed.”
As evidenced in the end, Karlsson’s health was an issue all throughout the season.
“Really, we had him healthy for six weeks and dialed in,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters following the defeat.
Still, those six weeks were awfully impressive, and even at less than 100 percent, Karlsson was arguably the Sharks’ best player when he was on the ice in the playoffs, at least before aggravating whatever kept him out of Game 6. There’s no denying his ability, and even with the injury history, he’s the kind of talent any team would love to have on their roster.
The playoff run can’t make the Sharks more confident in Karlsson’s ability to stay healthy. But it proved enough that they can’t afford to let him get away, regardless of how costly he is certain to be.