The Vegas Golden Knights were full of surprises in their first season, but the performance of William Karlsson was one of the biggest shocks. Now signed to a one-year contract worth $5.2 million, Karlsson has a chance to get yet another hefty raise next summer.
An absolute bargain at $1 million this past season, Karlsson finished third in the NHL with 43 goals, trailing only Patrik Laine and Rocket Richard winner Alex Ovechkin. Karlsson did so with the added responsibility of playing top-line center for the Golden Knights and never neglecting his defensive duties. Not only that, but he did so without putting his team at a disadvantage – his 12 PIM went a long way in winning Karlsson the Lady Byng Trophy, which he got to accept on home turf at the NHL Awards in Vegas.
But that was one heckuva season. Can Karlsson repeat it?
Keep in mind, Karlsson was made available in the expansion draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets because he hadn’t even cracked double-digits in goals the previous two seasons and went through some really dry spells at times. As much as Columbus liked ‘Will Bill,’ it wasn’t seen as a big loss.
During his breakout 2017-18 campaign with the Golden Knights, Karlsson famously racked up a shooting percentage of 23.4, tying him with Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot for tops among NHL regulars. So here’s the big question: No one expects Karlsson to score on basically one out of four shots again next season, but how much of a dip will it be? If he’s not necessarily a consistent 40-goal scorer, is he still a 30-goal scorer, who just didn’t find his identity until moving to the fast-paced Golden Knights from Columbus? Or, does the league-wide notoriety he has gained turn Karlsson into a target for opposing shutdown centers and he craters to, say, 20 goals next season?
This is the crux of Karlsson’s one-year deal here. If he can replicate last year’s performance, Vegas definitely signs him to a big-money, long-term deal. Let’s be super-conservative and say $8.5 million for the next eight years. But if Karlsson falls back to Earth, look for more of a bridge deal next summer, at perhaps only $5.5 million. Karlsson is still a restricted free agent after this new deal, so Vegas has some leverage.
How Vegas performs after the franchise’s incredible run to the Pacific Division title and Stanley Cup final will be one of the most intriguing storylines of 2018-19. The Golden Knights won because they were a fast, tenacious collective and Karlsson was at the front of the attack. Vegas added coveted veteran Paul Stastny in free agency this summer, giving Vegas more depth at center and some possible cover for Karlsson in match-up battles.
In terms of overall salary cap, Vegas is still on its honeymoon. The team started off with a blank slate and GM George McPhee did a great job of taking on a couple bad contracts (such as Columbus’ David Clarkson; Karlsson was the ‘future consideration’ in the trade that netted Vegas a couple high draft picks in return), but only when it was advantageous.
The Tomas Tatar trade at the deadline was a misstep and the contract extension to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is a little scary, but Vegas is still in great shape and the decision McPhee and crew made on Karlsson’s new contract illustrates that they’re still on the ball.