A quick look at the defenders who finished in the top four in the Norris Trophy poll last season reveals two things in common: They all had at least 50 points and were either 29 or 30 years old.
Nashville’s Roman Josi, who turned 30 in June, won the award after finishing second among all NHL defenders with 65 points. Washington’s John Carlson, who turned 31 on Monday, finished second after leading all defenders with 75 points.
There’s also no fresh-legged baby in the woods that has taken the league by storm. They have both been in the NHL for a long time and play big, important minutes in crucial situations for their teams and collect points.
The San Jose Sharks have their own defender who fits that description exactly.
And now Erik Karlsson, 30 years old, is healthy again.
For the first time since joining the Sharks, Karlsson seems completely ready for a season to start. His last game was almost 11 months ago, plenty of time to get his body and mind right for the 56-game season ahead.
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“I’m in a good position physically right now,” said Karlsson on Tuesday, adding that after so many months of hiatus, you didn’t really know what to expect when you were put next to your team-mates and trying to get going again .
“But I think the two weeks that have passed here (at the training camp) feel good. I feel in a good place physically and mentally. ”
The biggest questions about Karlsson since joining the Sharks in September 2018 have been about his health. At his introductory press conference at a downtown San Jose hotel, Karlsson was asked if the ankle surgery he had the previous year would affect his future game at all.
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There was a groin injury that partially derailed the Sharks’ hopes for a Stanley Cup in 2019. The subsequent groin operation shortly after the Haie playoff run ended and affected Karlsson’s ability to train in the summer – and it got off to a quick start last season.
Karlsson had 10 points in his first 14 games but never looked completely relaxed. The Sharks had a 4-9-1 start and rallied in November to hit 15-12-1, but the wheels fell off before Christmas with nine losses in 10 games, sealing their fate as a non-playoff team .
“We all know that we are a better ice hockey team than last year,” said Karlsson. “It’s not something that any of us really want to do again. As a group, it feels like everyone is in a good place mentally and physically to be excited about kicking off the season. ”
It’s no secret that some Sharks fans fair or unfairly accused the contract Karlsson signed with the team on June 17, 2019 – $ 92 million over eight years – of costing the team the chance, Joe Pavelski , their former captain, to resign.
Two weeks later, Pavelski signed a three-year $ 21 million deal with Dallas and helped the Stars advance to the Stanley Cup Final in September. Meanwhile, the Sharks watched the playoffs on television.
Karlsson heard these complaints too, but maybe that can be put to bed this season.
The best way to do this would be for Karlsson to start strong and lead the Haie to a playoff spot. It’s not all on his shoulders, of course, as Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl and the goalkeepers also have to do their part.
But even in a year where they finished 28th out of 31 teams with average goals per game, the Sharks were still 16-12-4 last season when Karlsson had at least one point. He finished with 40 points in 56 games. What can he do during an entire season if he stays healthy?
SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 4: Erik Karlsson (65) of San Jose Sharks controls the puck against William Karlsson (71) of Vegas Golden Knights in the first period at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. On Friday, October. 4, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer / Bay Area News Group)
Let’s face it – not much is expected of the sharks in 2021. So when they argue, people will ask why. Karlsson would probably have something to do with the success of the sharks.
Karlsson and Burns could also benefit from Bob Boughner’s new system that gives them more leeway when playing in the offensive zone.
“I think when you have some of the best offensive and overall defenders in the world and your team, they have to be a big part of your offense and defense,” said Sharks captain Logan Couture at the start of the camp.
“We expect these guys to be in a rush and play games and especially these two guys are two guys who can make a lot of games that a lot of guys in this league can’t do. I’m looking forward to great years for these two and the other guys in the backend. ”
So far this preseason, Sharks coach Bob Boughner has liked what he saw from Karlsson.
“I think he has more jumping power, I think he looks faster. You can tell he’s healthy, ”said Boughner. “His attitude is always good. He loves the game. It approaches every day like it’s a fresh day. He has a smile on his face, he looks happy.
“There are a few times during the scrimmages that he just did all of the scrimmage himself, and he’s one of the people who can. I expect it will get off to a good start. He’s been looking good since day one and he’s in a good place mentally. ”
There is no question that the Sharks need Karlsson to play well if they have hope of the playoffs. It seems like that’s what they’re going to get, at least early in the season on Thursday when the Sharks face the Arizona Coyotes.
Who knows. Perhaps Karlsson’s name will be in the Norris Trophy conversation again in the end, as did some other 30-year-olds last season.
“I think that the core and group of players we have here we all know where we should be,” said Karlsson. “I think we all ask a lot more of ourselves.”