No one believed Erik Karlsson.
“I still think I’m one of the best players in the world,” the then 31-year-old told local media before opening night last season.
The comments on Twitter weren’t, uh, kind. These were just a few:
I’m not calling anybody out! Like many, I thought the two-time Norris Trophy winner’s time as a contender for the award was done.
“He is who he is, a very good player, still elite at times…just not as elite as often as he used to be,” I wrote after the San Jose Sharks’ dropped a 4-2 decision to the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 25. “It’s like getting mad at Albert Pujols on the Angels or Michael Jordan on the Wizards for not being able to freeze time and transport you back to their primes.”’
Since that loss, Karlsson has exploded for 60 points in his last 42 games. There isn’t a defenseman close to what Karlsson is doing offensively: Josh Morrissey is next with 48 points in 46 contests.
This is more than just turn back the clock – Karlsson was, at his best, a point-per-game player in his prime – this is going back in time with a Grays Sports Almanac in hand.
So what gave the now-Norris Trophy frontrunner, coming off a career-worst 0.42 Points Per Game in 2020-21, the confidence then to tell us that he was still one of the best players in the world?
Karlsson responding pointedly to this San Jose Hockey Now question a couple weeks ago, “How long have I played in this league, 14 years? Yeah. And I’ve had what, two or three bad years? That’s another 11 that’s pretty good.
Karlsson isn’t unaware of the heat that his opening night declaration last season ignited.
“That’s how it works sometimes. Things obviously haven’t been going as planned here for the last few years,” he acknowledged.
And could the criticism actually have motivated Karlsson?
“No. It’s a part of who we are, it’s a part of what we do, and if you don’t learn how to deal with that at a young age, you’re not going to stick around for long,” he mused. “It’s not something that really affects me one way or another, whether it’s good or it’s bad. I try to stay at a pretty consistent level.”
It doesn’t mean that Karlsson hasn’t heard the criticism over the years. Since Karlsson inked an eight-year, $92 million contract in Jun. 2019, the San Jose Sharks’ fortunes have turned, and until this year and parts of last season, so had his play.
“We are all well aware,” an NHL player once told me about fans mad online. “We are all plugged in.”
But Karlsson has clearly learned to skate through the noise.
“I played in a market where it’s a little bit more hectic than maybe it is here. So I got to see that from a young age. I saw other people deal with it,” Karlsson shared, referring to his days with the Ottawa Senators, where he debuted as a 19-year-old in 2009-10 and learned from captain Daniel Alfredsson.
“I’ve gone through my spells too, where I’m sure it’s been harder than other times. But over the course of the years, you learn how to manage it.”
Karlsson has clearly learned, going from all done to All-Star, and in his 30’s. The blueliner is the San Jose Sharks’ lone All-Star Game representative this weekend in Miami.
“One day, I’ll share my view on it,” he said of those “bad” years, “but it won’t be today.”
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