SAN JOSE – When the Sharks first acquired two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson ahead of their 2018-19 campaign, it was only natural to compare the move to another that took place just two years before: When the Nashville Predators traded for fellow Norris winner P.K. Subban.
Really, comparing the two trades was natural. Both cases involved elite defensemen leaving fumbling teams for squads with the potential to make deep playoff runs.
With the Predators making their final trip of the regular season to San Jose this weekend, it's only fitting to go back and re-evaluate those comparisons. Despite the differences in their playing styles and surroundings, Karlsson's first season in San Jose has far more in common with Subban's first in Nashville with new teams than anyone could have guessed.
You might recall the criticism Nashville endured when Subban didn't instantly make his new team a Stanley Cup contender at the start of the 2016-17 campaign. Fans and critics wondered alike how adding an upper-echelon defenseman to an already-stacked blue line not result in immediate success.
Yet the Predators lost seven of their first 10 contests that season despite Subban posting five points in that span, including a goal in his first game with the Preds. After stringing a couple of three-game winning streaks together in the month of November, however, Nashville finally started to figure things out. Subban's work as a set-up man – particularly in the month of February – helped the Predators win a lot more games.
Flash forward to November 2018. Karlsson had been a member of the Sharks for over a month, but he hadn't found the back of the net and the team as a whole hadn't quite figured out its identity yet.
The same question arose – how could adding a player like Erik Karlsson to a blue line led by Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic not be producing ridiculous results? But like Subban in Nashville, Karlsson eventually became more comfortable with his new squad.
Really comfortable, even. He eventually scored at least one point in 14 consecutive games, as San Jose started to rack up more wins, many of which resulted from him setting up teammates. Karlsson arguably could have started another streak had he not been sidelined with a lower-body injury in mid-January.
The comparisons extend beyond their play on the ice to the injuries that kept them off of it. Subban was also out of the lineup his first season with his new team. He sustained an upper-body injury that took him out of the Predators' lineup for 16 games. The Sharks know what that's like, as Karlsson has now missed 17 of the last 22 games. He isn't the only defenseman to miss time this season, let alone right now, as the Sharks have used nine defensemen this season.
This now leads us to where these teams differ. At this this point of the Predators' 2017 campaign, Subban and the streaky Predators were fighting for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Many believed their playoff run would end prematurely at the hands of the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, but the Predators ultimately advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
This year's Sharks are, as far as we know, in a different boat. With less than 11 games left in the season, San Jose is battling to remain the top seed in the Pacific Division and the West. They're also a heavy favorite to make a deep playoff run. As for Karlsson, the superstar defenseman is still working his way back to being healthy enough to lead a deep playoff run.
Of course, the comparisons between Subban and Karlsson's first seasons only go so far. They are both outstanding defensemen who joined two incredibly strong hockey teams, after all.
Nevertheless, there's no denying the similarities between the two make the potential of San Jose's current push for the playoffs, and Karlsson's eventual return to the lineup, even more exciting for Sharks fans.