San Jose Sharks: The Albatross of Erik Karlsson’s Contract

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /


No, that isn’t the total prize money from the San Jose Shark’s 50/50 draw. That is how much money Erik Karlsson is earning per minute this season. $34,555, or $500,000 a shot, or $2.875 million per point, according to

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Now, whilst you pick your jaw up off the floor after reading back that statistic, allow me to interject a bit. In my work, I typically like to ease into any topic I choose to discuss, preferring to include the backstory of the featured player and or team before discussing the recent events that are the focus of the piece. In this case however, I simply couldn’t find a way to lead into this story without being forward and upfront, as this situation is, quite frankly, nothing but.

In modern day NHL history, there have been few defensemen as offensively dominant as Karlsson. The 15th overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Karlsson battled through some growing pains early on to become one of the NHL’s elite players and, for a time, at least in my opinion, the best defenseman in the NHL. After an admittedly underwhelming 2009-10 rookie season, posting 26 points (5 G, 21 A) over 60 games, Karlsson underwent a stretch that simply hasn’t been seen from a defenseman since the days of Niklas Lidstrom or the 80’s live puck era.

Erik Karlsson has struggled to live up to big-ticket deal with San Jose Sharks

Since 2010-11, Karlsson has recorded at least 40 points in all but one of his 10 seasons, including two 60-point seasons, three 70-point seasons, and one 80-point season, resulting in two Norris Trophies in 2011-12 and 2014-15. As the Ottawa Senators established a reputation as a perennial cup contender and one of the NHL’s more consistent teams, Karlsson was the heart and soul of their backend, complimented by some solid defensive options like Mark Borowiecki and Marc Methot. After an Eastern Conference Final run in 2016-17, with Karlsson posting 18 points over 19 Playoff games, expectations were that this was just the tip of the iceberg for a young and talented Senators team.

Instead, Ottawa stumbled through a few rough seasons that saw all of what had made the team contenders leave, such as top forwards Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, and eventually, Karlsson. After enduring an up-and-down 2017-18 season, posting 62 points over 71 games with a -25 rating, the Senators shipped Karlsson to the Sharks in September of 2018 in a blockbuster deal. In return for Karlsson and failed Seventh Round project Francis Perron, Ottawa received a plethora of picks, prospects and depth players that included consistent 40-point player Chris Tierney, former First Round pick and top prospect Josh Norris, and a First-Round pick in 2020 that ended up being the No. 3 overall pick Tim Stuztle.

After producing a solid, if underwhelming (at least by Karlsson’s standards) 45 points (3 G, 42 A) over 53 games in 2018-19, Karlsson played a key role for a Sharks team that finished two games shy of the Stanley Cup Final. In spite of some noticeably reduced foot speed resulting from torn tendons in his left foot suffered during 2017-18, Karlsson still managed to post 16 points over 19 games, tied for second on the team in scoring with Brent Burns. With the Sharks looking to build on a successful season overall, the team bet on Karlsson to be one of the core parts of the franchise, signing him to an eight-year deal worth $92 million in June of 2019. At the time, this contract, while seen as quite shocking for a defenseman who had shown some notable regressions in recent years, was evidence of the Sharks commitment to their core, and there was still reason to believe Karlsson could return to his glory days before injuries started to take hold.

Erik Karlsson (65)
Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Well, two seasons in, and not only have things not gone that way, the expectation and hope of a return to form seems like nothing more than a pipe dream now. To say that Karlsson has struggled over these past two seasons is a gross understatement, and his regression has quite simply been baffling especially from a defenseman who was as once dominant as Karlsson. In a blunder-filled 2019-20 season that saw the Sharks trip and tumble to a Pacific Division worst 29-36-5 record, Karlsson’s -15 rating was second worst on the team amongst defensemen, posting just 6 goals and 40 points, with a broken thumb ultimately ending his season after just 56 games. In a 2020-21 season that has seen the Sharks struggle with an identity crisis and a 5-7-1 record, Karlsson has yet to score, posting just 4 assists and a -5 rating over 13 games.

Now, the operative question in regard to this situation, aside from how did this happen, is where do the Sharks and Karlsson go from here? With an average annual value of $11.5 million, Karlsson is the highest paid defenseman in the NHL, ahead of similarly regressed former stars like Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty at $11 million, and New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban at $9 million. For the fourth highest paid player in the NHL, Karlsson is 402nd in the NHL in scoring, and 69th amongst defenseman, a far, far cry from the days of his 82-point 2015-16 season. Karlsson’s regression from NHL elite to a blemish on the Sharks salary cap has been equal parts fascinating and disconcerting. Most notably, an October 2019 snippet from TSN’s Overdrive podcast with Jeff O’Neill, saw esteemed NHL analysts like Ray Ferraro tear into Karlsson’s lack of work ethic and drive, which, while understandable, is simply shocking when you consider where Karlsson once was.

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At the absolute lowest of lows right now, there is always a chance that Karlsson can pick up the slack and make up for a rough start to 2020-21, but if that current pace is anything to go by, it seems unlikely. With six more seasons left on his $11.5 million a year deal after this year, including a no-movement clause, Karlsson’s contract isn’t just buyout-proof, its buyout-repellant. For a player who was once seen as one of the NHL’s elite, Karlsson now seems destined to be nothing more than another entry in the discussion of worst NHL contracts, grouped in with the Dave Bolland’s, David Clarkson’s, and Rick Dipietro’s that continually stain NHL salary caps. I would love to see Karlsson return to form and become the top-level defenseman he once was, but without the foot speed that made up for his less than stellar defensive awareness, it seems unlikely.

While the 2020-21 NHL season has only just begun, Playoff hopes seem to already be slipping away for a number of teams, and at a rate of $34,555 a minute, Erik Karlsson’s glory days seem destined for the same fate.