Months of speculation have boiled down into the Erik Karlsson move to San Jose, and now it’s over. Ottawa got back a disappointing jumble of mediocrity, and Doug Wilson looks like a God. All that’s left is to speculate what the San Jose Sharks will look like, and be able to complete, in the 2018-19 season. With this in mind, I take a look at what’s ahead.
After the rabble died down, it became clear that who the Sharks lost from their potential lineup for the upcoming season are comparatively small potatoes, when the return is Erik Karlsson. Of anyone with a chance of cracking this seasons roster, San Jose have said so long to: third line centre Chris Tierney (who will likely play on Ottawa’s second line, this does not fare well for Ottawa); sixth/seventh defenseman Dylan Demelo (a nice little depth guy rendered null and void by the Karlsson add); and finally a potential mid-late season call-up in Rudolfs Balcers.
For all that has been lost, it’s more than made up for in what the Sharks have added. There’s no way to deny that, no matter how much you love Chris Tierney.
Adding a two time Norris trophy winning generational defenseman would change the dynamic of any team. Suddenly, you have more opportunity to activate the defense, to switch up how you structure your power play, to generate shots from the point. All of these are great for a team who don’t already have a defenseman ranking top 10 in the league. The San Jose Sharks already have Brent Burns.
Say what you will about Burns’ defensive misgivings (and boy, do I have a lot to say about them), the man puts up points. He led the team in scoring with 67 points last season, despite the his slow start, and this was his lowest total in the last three years. Whether or not you can pencil him in for a 70 point season, however, is debatable.
An exciting aspect of adding Karlsson to the team is that we’ll likely see less shots from the point by Brent Burns on both the power play and at even strength. When things are clicking for Burns, that shot can be lethal, as well as a solid source of opportunities for (king of the tip in) Pavelski to deflect into the net. When things aren’t working, we see shot after shot after shot that starts to feel like a meaningless quantity over quality style of play.
There’s only one puck, as division rival Drew Doughty recently pointed out in an article at the Athletic. As much as 4F/1D seems to be the norm for power play setups now, there’s a chance we see 3F/2D on the Sharks top unit this season. With both on the power play there may not be enough puck to go around. Burns brings his now-iconic one timer from the blueline, where Erik Karlsson brings a nifty presence along the line, able to drag the puck down for better positioning before taking the shot, or deferring to the pass.
Personally, I like Karlsson’s slower, more thought out approach to shots from the point, as the quality of his shots trend higher than those of Burns and he’s more likely to pass to a teammate for a better shot opportunity where Burns tends to take the shot regardless.
With less reliance on funnelling offence through Burns at the point, it will clear room for more dynamic depth scoring from further down the lineup. We’re still waiting on that career breakout season from Tomas Hertl, though he matched his first season totals coming off a year plagued by knee injuries. With Meier poised to break out, it’s likely we’ll see him plug that 2RW spot, unless Pete DeBoer is set on him playing on the third line next to unproven Finnish Liiga talent Antti Suomela.
Reports from camp by The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz suggest that Suomela is gelling well with Donskoi, so those two paired up on the third line could be a productive mix, considering Suomela was the Liiga’s top scorer last season.
It’s been said, by excitable fans more than anyone else, that Hertl could move back to centre (the position he was drafted as) which would push Suomela down and provide legitimate centre depth for the Sharks, but he’s emerged as a two-way power forward deserving of his 2LW spot. With Hertl’s offseason goal to get even stronger, he’ll be a tough cookie to play against. There seems to be little point in shifting his position unless the Suomela experiment fails spectacularly.
For the fourth line, there’s Goodrow, Karlsson, or Gambrell. All three can play centre, but I’m hedging my bets on seeing Gambrell plug that spot for a decent amount of time this season. A fourth line of Sorensen-Gambrell-Karlsson is projected the 12th best fourth line in the league, which isn’t too shabby.
There will be very few minutes a night where one of Karlsson or Burns is not on the ice. Cited as two of the most exciting and creative blueliners in the league, the odds are the Sharks’ to screw up. The time could very well be now, for San Jose’s rise out of consistent mediocrity. It’s fair to say, not making it out of the division would be an embarrassment.
Feature image credit: Sportsnet.ca