Six days before he could have begun speaking with other teams and two weeks before he could have signed with one, Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson chose to stay put.
The 29-year-old signed an eight-year contract with San Jose on Monday, opting to forego unrestricted free agency. The only active defenseman with two Norris Trophies and the highest-scoring blue liner since he entered the league a decade ago, Karlsson likely would have had no shortage of suitors this summer.
He said Monday that re-signing was his top priority headed into the offseason, and NBC Sports California analyst Bret Hedican thinks it's a testament to what the Sharks have built that the Swedish defenseman skipped out on the free-agent frenzy entirely.
"I just thought for sure with all the options he was going to have in July that maybe he'd test the water," Hedican said in an interview Monday morning. "But it just speaks to (general manager) Doug Wilson and (majority owner) Hasso Plattner and obviously the coaching staff, everything that has gone on throughout the course of the year with Karlsson being here that he was impressed enough with everybody and the situation where he's at to sign a long-term deal."
Hedican played 1,039 NHL games, winning a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 before retiring three years later. He was 38 in his last season in the league, and Karlsson will be 37 when his contract expires in 2027. Hedican said he thought Karlsson likely learned a lot this season about how he'll need to take care of his body as he gets older, and so he can withstand the rigors of an 82-game regular season and deep playoff runs. Karlsson played 53 regular-season games, missing 27 down the stretch due to groin issues that required offseason surgery.
What will help Karlsson as he ages is his quick thinking and decision-making. Hedican likened the defenseman's hockey IQ to a modern computer processor.
"You remember when we first got computers, the processor wasn't very fast," Hedican said. "You had to wait to get things done. Now, you've got these [processors] that you hit one stroke of the key, and all these things just happen in a matter of split seconds, right? That's the processor that Erik Karlsson has. When you can lock a guy down like that, you just don't get the opportunities like that every day."
Karlsson will not be tasked with leading the blue line alone, especially offensively. Brent Burns, a Norris Trophy finalist who just set a career-high in points this season (83), is under contract for six more years. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, meanwhile, becomes a free agent a year after Burns.
Burns, Karlsson and Vlasic, respectively, finished No. 1 and No. 2 among the Sharks in ice time during the regular season and playoffs. Karlsson and Burns played together at times on offensive-zone faceoffs at even strength or when the Sharks were pushing to tie games late, in addition to sharing time on the power play. Hedican said the two got some of the growing pains out of the way last season, but that the shared understanding between the two has to continue to develop for the Sharks to contend now and moving forward.
"You have to understand that through the 82 games that maybe you're not gonna 22 minutes one night, maybe you get 18," Hedican said. " ... I think understanding that, and having these two players work together throughout the course of an 82-game year, learning how to play with one another -- and without one another -- is gonna be important."