Doug Wilson checked off a major part of his summer to-do list Monday morning.
Defenseman Erik Karlsson signed an eight-year contract with the Sharks on Monday, two weeks before he could have hit unrestricted free agency. With Karlsson locked up for the foreseeable future, San Jose's general manager told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil that the deal provides a lot more certainty headed into a key stretch of the offseason.
"All I can say is having got this piece done today certainly allows our next three weeks, or four weeks, to be a little bit more structured," Wilson told Brazil. "But, it would have been very difficult with this unknown piece going to July 1 and everything up in the air. It doesn't mean we don't have tough decisions, but this is a very, very big piece that makes us a better hockey team both today and long-term."
Many of those tough decisions center around the Sharks' remaining pending free agents. Captain Joe Pavelski can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, as can wingers Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist. After posting career years, wingers Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are set for restricted free agency. Joe Thornton, meanwhile, is pondering his playing future.
With Karlsson reportedly locked up for an annual salary-cap hit of $11.5 million as the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL/player in franchise history, Wilson has around $12.5 million in cap space to work with this offseason. That wouldn't appear to leave enough wiggle room for all of the Sharks' potential free agents, let alone most of them.
Wilson told Brazil that those choices are the cost of doing business in a salary-capped league. The Sharks have chosen to prioritize their blue line, with Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all under contract for at least the next seasons, and the center position, as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture are locked up for nearly $14 million combined over the next three seasons. That foundation is what's most important to Wilson.
"Our job is to give ourselves the best chance to win every year. And having said that, you've got to be strong in certain positions. I've never heard anybody say, 'we've got too much good pitching," for example. ... When you've got guys like Couture and Hertl and we've had the benefit of having one of the greatest in Jumbo, and then you've got three Norris-caliber defensemen, it allows you to do a lot of other things.
"You're always gonna have to have young players coming in. You're always gonna have to make choices and decisions, and it all is gonna have to fit in under the cap. At the same time, players have choices too and that's the journey that we're on right now and a cap system dictates that."
The 2019 NHL Draft begins Friday in Vancouver, and it has the potential to be a very busy weekend. Wilson reiterated to Brazil that he has noticed "more buzz" around the league than any other point during his 15-and-a-half years atop the Sharks front office. San Jose doesn't have a pick in either of the first two rounds, but it's possible Wilson begins to make some of the tough decisions that he alluded to.
But with Karlsson's contract resolved, it sounds like Wilson will be able to chart the Sharks' offseason course with greater clarity.