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Sharks’ Erik Karlsson brings star power, surliness to San Jose

Updated January 10, 2019 - 11:48 pm

I’m guessing had the Golden Knights ever worked out a trade for Erik Karlsson, he wouldn’t have racked up as many airline miles as Brandon Pirri.

Who, you would gather, now leads the NHL in A-List Preferred credits and drink coupons on Southwest.

Karlsson’s standing as one of the world’s elite players has long been cemented, and there was a time — both at last season’s trade deadline and then again during the late summer — when every report and rumor regarding his next destination included the Knights.

The defenseman would instead be dealt from Ottawa to the Sharks for a package of players and picks and probably the assurance loony Senators owner Eugene Melnyk never again crossed into San Jose city limits, immediately bolstering what was already one of the league’s best blue lines.

Karlsson was back in T-Mobile Arena for a second time this season Thursday night, when an early January game had a serious playoff feel in a 3-2 Sharks victory before a frosted white gathering of 18,367.

The loss snapped a seven-game win streak for the Knights, who watched a 2-1 advantage in the third period disappear when San Jose scored twice in 39 seconds.

There has been a definite separation from the top three teams within the Pacific Division, where Calgary, the Sharks and Knights are looking more and more destined to live when the playoffs begin.

In the case of the Sharks, who have won five straight and moved past the Knights into second place, such a surge occurred around the time Karlsson began playing like a two-time Norris Trophy winner and not a guy acclimating himself to a new home and team.

Consider: Before facing his previous club in Ottawa on Dec. 1, Karlsson had tallied 15 points and played to a minus-7.

Since, he has 26 points and played to a plus-17.

He had recorded an assist in 14 straight games — the fifth defenseman in NHL history to do so — before not registering a point in 30:09 of ice time Thursday.

“He has come as advertised,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “He has an effortlessness to him when he plays the game. He makes really hard plays look easy. Great players make people around them better, and every time he’s on the ice, he’s putting guys on the ice to do things and create offense.”

Nobody really knows, other than those intimately involved in the talks, how close the Knights came to trading for Karlsson or, really, how profound their interest was.

You rarely know what he’s thinking, given his moodiness when it comes to reporters, shown again Thursday when he looked at a group of media waiting to ask him postgame questions and said, “I’m not talking to them.”

He’s a real peach of a guy, Erik Karlsson.

But in terms of him ultimately landing on a team that reached the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion side and is seemingly set to contend for the foreseeable future, think of how the Dodgers should view Bryce Harper.

You obviously want him but don’t necessarily need him.

Why no trade?

“(Karlsson) is one of the best in the world,” said fellow Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. “It takes time to get used to new things. It’s not easy. I know what it’s like to get traded. It’s hard. But you can see how unbelievable he is.”

Maybe it was a case that Karlsson wouldn’t agree to sign long-term deal before testing the free-agent market after this season when it came to the Knights not trading for him. Maybe the Senators were, in the mind of Knights general manager George McPhee, asking for too much.

Maybe it’s as simple as McPhee being secure in the development of those throughout the team’s system and, while isn’t quite ready to bestow Hall of Fame status on Erik Brannstrom like many (overly excited) locals, does believe the young prospect has a chance to soon make the NHL and stick.

Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it.

The Sharks and Karlsson’s agent are reportedly set to sit down after the All-Star break and discuss a long-term extension, meaning even if the Knights still or ever did harbor serious thoughts of him playing here, he could soon be locked up and off the market for years to come.

Which might, in the end, be best for all involved, especially media who have to cover him daily.

And, this way, McPhee can return all his thoughts to chasing a personal record of seeing how many flights he can book for one player between Las Vegas and Chicago.

I sure hope Pirri’s phone is charged.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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