Zizing ‘Em Up: Karlsson set for 1st trip back to San Jose with Penguins

NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger has been covering the NHL regularly since 1999. Each Sunday, he uses his extensive networks of hockey contacts to write his weekly notes column, “Zizing ‘Em Up.”

TORONTO — Earlier this month, Pierre-Luc Dubois returned to Winnipeg as a member of the Los Angeles Kings and faced resounding boos every time he touched the puck.

On Saturday, Erik Karlsson will experience a similar return, this time to San Jose with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Will he receive the same treatment from the crowd at SAP Center, where he played for the San Jose Sharks for five seasons? Or will the veteran defenseman, who was traded to Pittsburgh over the summer, be greeted with cheers instead of jeers?

The 33-year-old hopes for a positive reaction.

“I hope so,” Karlsson told NHL.com in a phone interview. “I have a lot of memories there and will always cherish that, so hopefully they can recall the good times we had together. And, you know, other times, it’s just part of the business sometimes, unfortunately.

“It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. I know they’re going through some tough times there right now, but I enjoyed my time there.”

In the case of Dubois, even though he claimed he never demanded a trade from the Winnipeg Jets, the passionate fan base in Manitoba’s capital had a sense that he didn’t want to be in their market, whether to play or live, and felt betrayed. In what was an acrimonious breakup between player and city, the 25-year-old was dealt to the Kings for forwards Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, and a second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Now it’s Karlsson’s turn. He’ll play an NHL game in San Jose for the first time since leaving the Bay Area when the Sharks host the Penguins on Nov. 4 (10 p.m. ET; SN-PIT, NBCSCA).

In Karlsson’s case, he wants to make it clear that his decision had nothing to do with calling San Jose his home. He loved it there. His children — 4-year-old daughter Harlow and 1-year-old son Stellan — were born there. His young family embraced the city.

At the same time, the Sharks’ circumstances changed.

After arriving in a trade from the Ottawa Senators in 2018, Karlsson made it to the Western Conference Final with San Jose in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to be eliminated by the eventual champion St. Louis Blues. Four consecutive playoff misses followed, leading to the hiring of Mike Grier as general manager to oversee the rebuild on July 5, 2022.

Eight days after Grier took over, All-Star defenseman Brent Burns was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. Karlsson understood why. The Sharks were focusing on the future. The problem was that as a player in his 30s, he didn’t know if he would still be in his prime when the team reached its goals.

According to Karlsson, Grier was open to his desire to be traded to a more competitive situation, closer to his dream of winning the Stanley Cup. The obstacle, he admits, was that he still had four seasons remaining on his eight-year, $92 million contract ($11.5 million average annual value) that he signed with San Jose on June 17, 2019.

Grier made it clear that there was only a certain amount of money the Sharks were willing to take on in any trade, making it difficult to strike a deal. But they managed to do it, sending Karlsson to the Penguins in a three-team trade on Aug. 6, with the Montreal Canadiens also involved, while San Jose retained $1.5 million of his salary annually.

Karlsson expressed gratitude for Grier’s efforts during the process.

“I think ever since he came in and took over his role there, we’ve had a really open relationship,” he said. “I think he knew the situation he was coming into and the things he wanted to do, and he was very transparent about that. Similarly, I was very open with him about what I wanted to achieve in my life and my career.

“I think we started our relationship off right from the beginning. He’s a great person, both personally and professionally. I can see that. He has a clear vision of how he wants to do things, and he was very clear about how long he thought that would take.”

Throughout it all, as Karlsson waited to see if he would be traded last season, he took the high road, on and off the ice.

In the end, he became the sixth defenseman in NHL history to reach 100 points, finishing with 101 (25 goals, 76 assists), and was named the Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman. But the ultimate prize he desires is the Stanley Cup, and San Jose (22-44-16) was nowhere near contending for it, finishing 29th in the NHL standings.

Karlsson wants Sharks fans to know that he gave his all, even when a playoff spot seemed out of reach.

“I think I demonstrated that with the season I had there,” said Karlsson, who has four points (one goal, three assists) in his first eight games with the Penguins. “The people there were very kind to me and my family, and we haven’t forgotten.”

As an example, Harlow adores team mascots and was visited by San Jose’s S.J. Sharkie at the Karlsson family’s California home before they relocated. Sharkie brought a rose for the excited little girl, and they played with toys together as a way of saying goodbye.

“It will always hold a special place for us,” he said. “For all of us.”

He would like to believe that the fans at the “Shark Tank” know that. Ultimately, their reaction on Saturday will be the true test of their feelings.


Denial of responsibility! Being Sportsfan is an automatic aggregator of Global media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, and all materials to their authors. For any complaint, please reach us at – [email protected]. We will take necessary action within 24 hours.
DMCA compliant image

Leave a Comment