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By the Numbers: Karlsson crashes back to earth with Penguins


After a career year at the age of 32 last season, Erik Karlsson's production has reverted back to the mean with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins acquired Karlsson from the San Jose Sharks as part of a blockbuster three-team trade in August as new president and general manager Kyle Dubas looked to put his stamp on the team.

But the 33-year-old blueliner has failed to find his Norris Trophy-winning form this season with the Penguins, who are struggling to stay in the playoff race.

Karlsson has seven goals and 39 points in 53 games this season and is on pace for 60 points - 41 fewer than his total from last season. 

After being limited to 56 or less games in each of his first four seasons with the Sharks after a 2018 trade from the Ottawa Senators, Karlsson broke out last year under new head coach David Quinn. He had 25 goals and 101 points, winning his third Norris Trophy despite finishing at minus-26 as the Sharks finished near the bottom of the NHL standings. 

In Pittsburgh, his production has fallen back to a .74 points per game from the dazzling 1.23 points per game he had a year ago. That production nearly aligns with his career average of. 78 points per game when excluding the 2022-23 outlier.

Erik Karlsson - Since 2018 Trade to Sharks

Season Team GP Goals Assists Points Points per game +/-
2018-19 Sharks 53 3 42 45 .85 6
2019-20 Sharks 56 6 34 40 .71 -15
2020-21 Sharks 52 8 14 22 .42 -18
2021-22 Sharks 50 10 25 35 .70 -14
2022-23 Sharks 82 25 76 101 1.23 -26
2023-24 Penguins 53 7 32 39 .74 8
Career OTT, SJS, PIT 973 185 615 800 .82 -95

Karlsson among Penguins core

Entering Thursday's clash with the Montreal (LIVE on TSN2 for viewers in the Canadiens region), Pittsburgh is sitting eight points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. Three teams - the New Jersey Devils, Islanders and Washington Capitals - are sandwiched between the Red Wings and Penguins in the crowded playoff race. 

TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that Dubas has been "listening" on all non-core players as the trade deadline nears. 

Dubas included Karlsson when speaking on the team's core Wednesday, listing him among Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. He noted that the team would like to add younger players to that group, but pointed to Karlsson's personal production as spot for improvement as well. 

“We hope to add to it - there’s only so much you can expect from that group,” Dubas said. “As much as you expect from them, they tend to deliver more, and they have here for a long time.

“They are four guys that are going to be Hall of Fame players. Erik is a new addition. I think he’d be the first to tell you he wants to contribute more, he feels he can contribute more. We need to help him get there.

“But I think those guys have the ability and character to help a younger group. That’s why I mentioned them together.”

Karlsson remains signed through the 2026-27 season at a cap hit of $10 million for the Penguins as the Sharks retained $1.5 million in last year's deal. Letang, 36, is signed through 2027-28 at a $6.5 million salary, while Crosby, also 36, will enter the last year of his contract next season at a $8.7 million cap hit. Malkin, the oldest member of the group at 37, is under contract through 2025-26 at a $6.1 million salary. 

Forwards Bryan Rust, 31, Rickard Rakell, 30, defenceman Ryan Graves, 28, and goaltender Tristan Jarry, 28, are all signed through at least 2027-28 at cap hits ranging from $4.5 million to $5.4 million. 

As the Penguins look to get younger on the fly, it appears 29-year-old pending unrestricted free agent Jake Guentzel could be on the way out. Listed at No. 4 on the TSN Trade Bait board, Guentzel was Pittsburgh's leading scorer with 52 points in 50 games before being injured last week.

“We have to take stock of where we’re at and be realistic — and one of the issues we have is we need to get younger," Dubas added Wednesday. "We have a lot of guys in their 30s signed. Some of them are the best players in the history of the franchise. It’s tough with Jake because he’s an excellent player and playing at an elite level.

“We have to find a way to continue to have those solid veteran guys, but continue to get younger at the same time.”

Eight games remain on the schedule for Pittsburgh ahead of the March 8 deadline as Dubas waits to see if the team can make a push to change his deadline outlook.