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Karlsson enjoying life as a Shark, but the biggest decision of his career is looming

With potential to hit the market as one of the most sought after free agent defensemen in NHL history, Erik Karlsson faces a career-defining decision. Don't expect him to rush it.

SAN JOSE – When you think about Erik Karlsson’s future with the San Jose Sharks, consider this. When was the last time the Sharks really wanted to keep a player and he ended up getting away?

Patrick Marleau? Well, not sure they were too broken up about that one. Brian Campbell? That was one, but him leaving for the Chicago Blackhawks after a short stint with the Sharks allowed them to trade for Dan Boyle back in 2008. The point is, once a guy gets indoctrinated into the Sharks, he tends to stay here.

It’s against that backdrop that Karlsson faces the second half of his first season with the Sharks. It is a crucial time for both him and the franchise. The Sharks will be able to sign Karlsson to an eight-year deal once the trade deadline passes, but there’s little reason to believe anything will happen that quickly. Sharks GM Doug Wilson has had exploratory talks with Karlsson’s agent, Don Meehan, but that’s about as far down the road as they’ve gone.

“I’m enjoying every moment,” Karlsson said of his time with the Sharks. “I’ve enjoyed every second here. We have a great team and I’m excited for the last 30 games here.”

Karlsson joked about how good it felt to score two goals in the Pacific Division’s 10-4 loss to the Central Division in the first game of the tournament, given that he hasn’t scored a goal in nine games and has just one in his past 24. And if you’re a Sharks fan looking for good omens on the Karlsson front, consider that he missed the three games before all-star weekend with a lower-body injury. Had the game been anywhere else, he almost certainly would have taken a pass on it.

“We discussed (skipping the game), but being in San Jose, I think it’s important that when you get the opportunity to participate like I did, I felt like it was something I wanted to do," Karlsson said. "I know how much it means for this organization and the fan base and the community. I was happy I was able to do it and get a few more days and hopefully be back after the break.”

Karlsson started the season slowly, but has been a key part of the team’s climb into second place in the Pacific Division, with a goal and 28 points in 20 games since the beginning of December. He leads all NHL defensemen in Corsi percentage at an impressive 59.8 percent, but what is most important is his relative Corsi, which is 6.8 percent, meaning his mark is 6.8 percent better than the average on the team.

The one thing that might get Sharks fans nervous was a photo that showed up on Karlsson’s Instagram account of him going out for tacos with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s no secret that the Lightning was one of the teams that tried to get him out of Ottawa at the trade deadline last season and over the summer. If the Sharks do not sign him, they’ll likely be in that conversation once again.

But the Sharks don’t have to worry about that until July 1. He talked at Media Day on Thursday about how much he respected the Sharks giving him space during the process and allowing him to acclimatize himself to his new situation. The Sharks are a team with a unique culture, which is led by Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Once players get there, they generally want to stay there. That may or may not be the case for Karlsson, but it will be intriguing to see how the rest of the season and the playoffs unfold for both the Sharks and Karlsson.

Chances are, how all that ends up will go a long way toward determining whether or not Karlsson makes northern California a long-term home or a one-season stop in his career.

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