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San Jose Sharks

Erik Karlsson & the Philosopher’s Stone



Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

“They’re asking them to do too much.”

That’s something I heard from NHL scouts sitting in the SAP Center press box, watching the Vegas Golden Knights outlast the San Jose Sharks 4-2 on Tuesday.

It’s everywhere on this San Jose roster: 32-year-old Erik Karlsson being asked to carry the offense as if he was 22.

Mario Ferraro being asked to play 22-plus minutes a night and quarterback the Sharks’ second power play unit.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Benning, being asked to anchor the middle pairing.

Logan Couture, being asked to carry winger du jour on the second line, be it Noah Gregor or Steven Lorentz or Oskar Lindblom or Kevin Labanc or Matt Nieto.

Stanley Cup-winning fourth-line center Nico Sturm being asked to shoulder 3C. Evgeny Svechnikov, on a two-way contract, riding shotgun.

This isn’t disrespect to any of these players: To a man, they’ve performed admirably in their elevated roles. They’re all good players who you can win with.

But let’s face it: San Jose is 2-7-0 for a reason, part of that being how many players they have in a little over their heads in their current roles.

That’s not all on the players, I should add.

Let’s focus particularly on Karlsson, because he was on so many fans’ minds after getting roasted by William Karlsson on Tuesday.

And look, I was as WTF as anybody in the press box when I saw this – this wasn’t a good play from him, no if’s and but’s.

“He just has to absorb the rush,” head coach David Quinn lamented.

That means stay with “Wild Bill,” hopefully keep him to the outside until help can come.

But it does feel, fair or not, that Karlsson’s mistakes are magnified by some in the fanbase who are exhausted with his long, fat contract, and the related decline in the franchise’s fortunes.

Yes, Karlsson is the highest-paid defenseman in the league. Yes, Karlsson is the highest-paid member of the San Jose Sharks. Yes, they’re 2-7-0, and of course, Karlsson bears some responsibility for that.

But it seems, at times, that fans are mad online that Karlsson isn’t the philosopher’s stone.

In the Middle Ages, the philosopher’s stone was a legendary substance, purportedly able to turn base metals into precious metals. Essentially, turn iron into gold.

You can probably see where I’m going here: Not only is Karlsson expected by some to be a superb individual offensive force, which he still is, he’s also expected to transform the Sharks into a playoff team.

And maybe he could’ve in 2012, maybe he could’ve in 2017, but it’s 2022.

He’s 32. He undergone surgeries on his forearm, groin, ankle, and Achilles. He isn’t the skater that he used to be. But all this withstanding, he didn’t force the San Jose Sharks or GM Doug Wilson to ink him to a maximum contract, or trade Josh Norris and the first-round pick who would turn out to be Tim Stutzle for him.

He is who he is, a very good player, still elite at times…just not as elite as often as he used to be.

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.

As it stands, the San Jose Sharks are doing their best to squeeze the most that they can out of Karlsson’s remaining years, and in my opinion, even though I do think his engagement can wax and wane depending on the team’s competitive state, Karlsson is doing his best too.

They’re managing Karlsson’s minutes, though he did clock a 5:10 shift at the end of Tuesday’s contest, as San Jose was trying to mount a comeback against Vegas.

“Well, we had the puck a lot in the offensive zone. So unless he’s tired, he’s not coming off. We were [also] able to call timeout,” Quinn explained. “We were actually talking about that during the play, he’s been out there a long time. [But then] we got the icings, the faceoff, and the timeout.”

Karlsson is one of 10 defensemen to average over 20 minutes a night at even strength, along with usual suspects like Cale Makar and Thomas Chabot and Drew Doughty.

But he’s participated in only 64 percent of the Sharks’ power play time – which is still a significant amount, but nothing compared to say 2015-16, when the Ottawa Senators threw Karlsson out during 92.5 percent of their PP time.

That’s right, 92.5 percent. I couldn’t believe that stat either.

The Sharks have also taken Karlsson off the penalty kill, with the stated purpose of keeping him fresh for offense.

So he’s averaging 23:48 a game, which is in line with what he’s played the last few years in San Jose.

And hey, maybe that’s still a couple minutes too much. Perhaps ideally, on a Cup contender, Karlsson isn’t the clear-cut No. 1 defenseman, and he shares the load with an alpha dog in his prime.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s something to be said, win, lose, or drowning in a contract, for appreciating the player for who he is, and not who you want him to be.

On a goal-starved Sharks, Karlsson still leads the team with six points. Not just the defensemen, but the entire team. As Corey Masisak noted, he’s been on the ice for 10 of the Sharks’ 13 5-on-5 goals – versus eight goals against, by the way. He’s still capable of the spectacular, as we saw at Madison Square Garden last week.

So Karlsson isn’t the philosopher’s stone. But as medieval alchemists themselves learned, there’s no such thing. Who’s single-handedly transforming these San Jose Sharks into a playoff team?

Better to appreciate gold for gold, silver for silver, iron for iron, and stop expecting Karlsson to transform the Sharks.

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