There are always NHL players that come and go who are overrated and others who are underrated. Erik Karlsson is definitely a part of the group that is overrated. Karlsson joined the NHL after being selected 15th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Karlsson wouldn’t make his debut until the 2009-2010 season when he scored five goals and 21 assists for 26 points in 60 games.
Related: Erik Karlsson Stats
Karlsson has played in 14 seasons, nine with the Ottawa Senators and five with the San Jose Sharks. When Ottawa traded Erik Karlsson to San Jose, it was easy to see that this was one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history since Eric Lindros was traded. See below for the entire trade breakdown.
Karlsson Traded to San Jose
San Jose received Erik Karlsson and Francis Perron, however, what they gave up was far more damaging in the long run.
Ottawa received Dylan DeMelo, Ottawa would later DeMelo to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2020 third-round pick. Ottawa also received Chris Tierney, Rudolfs Balcers, Joshua Norris, a 2020 first-round pick (#3 overall – Tim Stutzle), a 2021 second-round pick (#39 overall – Zack Ostapchuk, and a 2019 second-round pick (#44 overall – Jamieson Reed).
What is even crazier about this trade is the value that Ottawa received for Karlsson. The equivalent of two first-round picks, four second-round picks, and a third-round pick for a player who would rapidly decline after arriving in San Jose.
Related: San Jose Sharks Team Stats
To put the cherry on top of it all, San Jose put conditions on the two second-round picks to upgrade to first-round picks if the conditions were met. The fourth condition of the trade was a conditional fourth-round pick if Karlsson was traded to the eastern conference at any point during the 2018-19 season.
Had the San Jose Sharks made the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, the 2021 second-round pick they gave up in the trade would’ve upgraded to a 2021 first-round pick instead.
Acquiring Karlsson Wasn’t The Issue
I’ve said it for a while, and I will continue to say it, Doug Wilson’s worst move was not acquiring Erik Karlsson. Karlsson was the real deal before he got his foot injury which severely limited his skating. However, ego became the issue, and the defenseman would find himself in a rapid decline because of this.
Now, onto Doug Wilson, I mentioned that his worst move wasn’t acquiring Karlsson because Karlsson was good in Ottawa. Ottawa had Karlsson performing at nearly a point-per-game pace, San Jose. also got a couple of near-point-per-game seasons out of Karlsson. The ultimate collapse happened in the 2020-21 season, and Erik Karlsson would suffer through two of his worst seasons.
Doug Wilson got some attention when he signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract worth $11.5 million dollars annually. To just add insult to injury, this deal has a full no-movement clause for the entirety of his eight years. At the time that Doug Wilson signed this contract, Karlsson’s cap hit took up 14.47% of the cap space, ahead of the 2023-24 season, Karlsson’s $11.5 million cap hit takes up 13.8% of the Shark’s cap space.
Karlsson Enjoyed Massive 2022-23 Season Successes While Struggling Defensively
Before Erik Karlsson decided to play to his 2015-16 Ottawa Senators form like he was 25 again, Karlsson suffered through abysmal seasons. The last time Karlsson even reached 60 points was his final season in Ottawa. Karlsson never surpassed 50 points with the San Jose Sharks, that was true until the 2022-23 season. Karlsson posted career-high numbers in goals (25), assists (76) and points (101). Karlson also posted a career-worst plus/minus of minus 26. Adding some salt to the wound on this abysmal plus/minus, Karlsson was on the ice for 126 even-strength goals against. This is the most goals against that a defenseman has been on the ice for in the past 15 years.
Put this into perspective, you have a defenseman post 101 points, that’s pretty impressive, right? This defenseman is considered a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy for the fifth time in their career, outstanding, right? Certainly, the trophy that requires you to be a solid NHL-calibre defenseman should be awarded to the best defensive defenseman, not the best offensive defenseman, right? Karlsson’s staggering 126 even-strength goals against is the most in the last 15 years, and his defensive struggles are obvious.
You can make the argument that Erik Karlsson played on a team that was awful and had even worse goaltending. However, if you can make that argument for Erik Karlsson, you can make the same argument for Jeff Skinner in Buffalo and make him look like the next Connor Bedard.
What Makes Karlsson Overrated?
Erik Karlsson is signed to a contract that is $1 million less annually than what Connor McDavid makes per season. Auston Matthews makes just a bit more than $150,000 more than Karlsson. Riddle me this, why does a defenseman being paid big money hurt a team’s salary cap situation?
Erik Karlsson winning his third career James Norris Memorial Trophy is exactly the reason why the National Hockey League has to adopt an award for the best offensive defenseman. The league already has a trophy for the best defensive forward, why not create one for the best offensive defenseman too?
Karlsson plays close to 26 minutes on average per night on an awful team that doesn’t have a bright short-term future. Erik Karlsson does manage to elevate the offensive capabilities of his team, but he anchors his team defensively. It is no wonder that his stats were career-high numbers in goals, assists, and points. If you put Erik Karlsson on a contending team, if that team can make the cap work somehow without obliterating their roster, who knows what Karlsson is capable of?