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How Sharks’ Karlsson has turned back the clock to spark scoring renaissance

At his peak, Erik Karlsson had no peers.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner was appointment viewing when the puck was on his stick, which was often. But over the past four years, Karlsson has faded into the background while playing on a bad Sharks team and struggling to stay healthy.

This season, however, the 32-year-old Karlsson appears to have stepped back in time, leading all defencemen with 11 goals — already his single-season high in five seasons in San Jose — and 28 points in 19 games. Karlsson’s 18 points at 5-on-5 are the most in the NHL among all skaters.


Karlsson has been extremely elusive in the offensive zone, succeeding on 58.5 per cent of his one-on-one deke attempts (24/41), a significant jump from his 45.7 per cent success rate last season. That has opened shooting lanes for Karlsson, who has done a great job of scoring through traffic. Four of his goals have come off screened shots from the point, tied with Mikhail Sergachev for the league lead.

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“He’s been getting that swagger back on the blue line, faking guys out,” Sharks forward Nico Sturm told The Athletic. “When you possess the puck in the offensive zone and you work it around for a while and then you get it up to them, it’s so important that they get (the shot) through from the point, even if it’s not on net and goes off the end boards. He seems to be finding all the lanes right now.”

The departure of Brent Burns has certainly played a role in Karlsson’s resurgence as well. Karlsson no longer has to share offence-generating duties with Burns, leaving him as the unquestioned alpha on the Sharks’ blue line.

Karlsson’s average of 7.3 OGP per game in all situations, which includes all plays that lead to a scoring chance, is his highest since joining the Sharks in 2018. (Burns, in his first season with the Hurricanes, is right behind Karlsson among defencemen with 6.8 OGP per game.)

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Despite Karlsson’s late-career renaissance, the Sharks are still 6-10-3 and face an uphill climb to make the playoffs for the first time since 2019. General manager Mike Grier made headlines earlier this week when he said he would listen to trade offers for Karlsson, who has a full no-movement clause.

On Thursday, Karlsson told reporters that Grier has not broached the subject with him.

“I’m fully invested here at the moment,” Karlsson said. “All that other stuff, it is nice for you guys to have something to talk about. I’ll let you have at it.”

Well, if you insist.

There is a team — one Karlsson is quite familiar with — that has been transparent about its desire to acquire a defenceman. Elliotte Friedman said Wednesday during an appearance on “The Jeff Marek Show” that he believes the Sharks and Senators have discussed a trade involving Karlsson.

But as Friedman noted, Karlsson’s $11.5-million cap hit through 2027 will make any potential trade difficult to pull off, even if the Sharks retain salary. They are already retaining $2.72 million of Burns’ $8-million cap hit through 2025, according to CapFriendly.

Regardless of what happens with Karlsson, it is great to see him back at the top of his game.

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