The San Jose Sharks entered their offseason with a lot of questions about their future lineup. But they got a big look-in at next season now that Erik Karlsson officially is staying in Silicon Valley on an eight-year contract.
Given that Karlsson will enter his second year with the Sharks and already is accustomed to the team, there's potential for him to build on what he did last season -- and for San Jose's blue line to reach another level.
Although Karlsson was injured for a chunk of the 2018-19 campaign, his impact on Team Teal's entire game plan was evident. After taking the first two months of the season to get acclimated to his new team, Karlsson became a pivotal piece of San Jose's offensive assault, tallying 25 points (one goal, 24 assists) and a plus-16 rating between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8. Despite scoring only one goal during that stretch, Karlsson's ability to set up teammates from back in San Jose's defensive zone helped the Sharks dominate their opponents and register a 10-3-1 record during that span.
There's even more room for Karlsson's blue-line role to grow with Bob Boughner's return to San Jose's coaching staff. As Sharks fans know quite well, Boughner had a positive influence on the team when he was part of the staff just a few years back, namely in helping Brent Burns reach Norris Trophy-worthy potential.
Sharks general manager Doug Wilson expanded on the potential for a successful Karlsson-Boughner relationship when he spoke to the media Monday, just after Karlsson's contract was made official.
"I talked to Bob Boughner this morning," Wilson said. "When he heard the news [about Karlsson's contract] he called me. Both he and Pete [DeBoer, the Sharks' coach] are extremely excited. They both said Erik Karlsson makes them better coaches."
Of course, some of these high expectations for next season also are dependent on Karlsson's health when next season starts. He underwent groin surgery on May 31, and it's a procedure that the University of Michigan deems as having a three-week recovery time and a six-week window before strenuous exercise is recommended.
When asked about his health Monday, Karlsson didn't have an exact timeline for when he would start skating over the summer, but he sounded optimistic that he'll be ready when the season opens in October.
"I'm in that process now, and it's going to take all summer long," he said about his rehabilitation. "I'm going to do everything I can and be as good as I can [be] for when the season starts. So far, no problem."
Keep in mind that signing Karlsson to an eight-year contract doesn't mean San Jose's blue line is a finished product. Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek likely will be staples in the Sharks' D-corps next season. However, Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, who filled in for an injured Karlsson at different points during the season, appear headed for free agency in less than a month.
Plus, both Justin Braun and Karlsson's D-partner, Brenden Dillon, are coming up on the final years of their respective contracts, and could be used in offseason trades. Add NHL hopefuls from the Barracuda, and it's clear San Jose's defense is in for changes.
At least with Karlsson for sure playing in teal next season, there's already potential for the Sharks' blue line to be even better.