SAN JOSE -- The Sharks may have entered the off-season with a lot of questions about their future lineup. But they got a big look-in at next season now that Erik Karlsson is officially staying in Silicon Valley.
Given that Karlsson will be entering his second season with the team and is already accustomed to the team, there's potential for him to build on what he did for the team last year -- and for the Sharks' blue line to reach another level.
Although Karlsson was injured for a chunk of the 2018-19 season, 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 December 7 and January 8. Despite only scoring one goal during that stretch, his ability to set up goals 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 role on the blue line to grow with the return of Bob Boughner to San Jose's coaching staff. As Sharks' fans know quite well, Boughner had a very positive influence on the Sharks when he was part of the coaching staff just a few years back -- namely in helping Brent Burns reach Norris Trophy-worthy potential. General manager Doug Wilson expanded on the potential for a successful relationship between Karlsson and Boughner when he spoke to the media on July 17 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) are extremely excited. They both said Erik Karlsson makes them better coaches."
Of course, some of these high expectations for next season are also dependent on Karlsson's health when the 2019-20 campaign gets underway. He underwent groin surgery on May 31 -- a procedure that the University of Michigan deems as having a three-week recovery time and six-week window before strenuous exercise is recommended.
When asked about his health on June 17, Karlsson didn't have an exact timeline for when he would start skating over the summer but sounded optimistic he'll be ready for 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 rehab. "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."
Now keep in mind, signing Karlsson to an eight-year contract doesn't mean San Jose's blue line is a finished product just yet. Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Radim Simek will very likely 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, looked headed for free agency in less than a month.
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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 off-season trades. Add NHL hopefuls from the Barracuda it's clear San Jose's defense still isn't a finished product.
At least with Karlsson for sure playing in teal next season, there's already potential for San Jose's defense to be even better.