No one expected the Vegas Golden Knights to be in this position. That’s with regard to both their unprecedented immediate success and their current salary-cap situation, which is precarious to say the least. The most unexpected development of all might see them be forced to cut ties with star center William Karlsson.
Karlsson Stays Golden for Knights
Karlsson is set to become a restricted free agent. Even though his numbers fell off from last season, after which he signed his current one-year, $5.25 million deal, he’s still a key player for this team, having scored 56 points. Karlsson did score 78 points last season (43 goals), but many see him as having the potential to reach those heights again.
For example, recently acquired players like Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone as a collective unit may help draw some defensive attention away from Karlsson. Since the Knights traded for Stone at the trade deadline, Karlsson put up 17 points in his final 17 games of the season.
It’s ironically the Stone acquisition that may put Karlsson’s future with the Golden Knights in jeopardy, though. While the Golden Knights were projected to be one of the teams to benefit the most from the increase, that was before Stone signed. Now, there’s little way for them to make room.
In Between a Stone and a Hard Place
With Stone’s massive eight-year, $76 million extension, the Knights simply don’t have the cap space, literally. They’re over. The official salary cap has yet to be released, but it’s expected to rise to $83 million for 2019-20. Their cap hit as of today is over $83.1 million, with restricted free agents like Karlsson, Tomas Nosek and Malcolm Subban still having to be inked. In the unrestricted-free-agent department, leaders Deryk Engelland and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare also don’t have contracts past this season.
As a result, tough decisions will have to be made by the Golden Knights. One such decision may be to trade Karlsson’s rights or, what might generally be inconceivable, hope Karlsson receives an offer sheet from another club. Granted, the Golden Knights may only welcome one from a team outside of their conference, but, because of Karlsson’s projected salary, it would arguably end up being worth it.
Karlsson’s Hypothetical Haul
Let’s say, hypothetically, Karlsson gets signed to a deal with a $6.5 million average annual value (AAV). That would be worth first-round, second-round, and third-round picks as offer-sheet compensation. However, the offer-sheet dynamic is such that teams who extend them tend to offer players more than they would get under normal circumstances.
It isn’t just to sweeten the pot for the player to sign. It’s more to put a poison pill in the contract to prevent the player’s team from so much as wanting to match it. So, it’s not impossible that a team enters into the next bracket, over approximately $8.5 million per season as an offer, giving the Golden Knights extra incentive to pass on Karlsson. That extra incentive? In addition to the three picks above, they would get a second first-rounder.
Karlsson’s value to the team is undeniable. Even though his offensive numbers went down, he offers a lot as a complete player. However, letting him go somewhere else would solve a lot of issues moving forward and arguably set the Golden Knights up for the future.
All the while, with the emergence of Stastny, Pacioretty and Stone as the team’s arguable top line, they would theoretically remain dangerous. Plus, theoretically speaking, top-prospect Cody Glass could fill the void Karlsson would leave as the second-line center, between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
Facing Life Without Karlsson
The Golden Knights are already facing the possibility of having to go to arbitration with Karlsson late in the summer. Chances are the process may price them out of re-signing him anyway. Even if they could manage to do it, arbitration would inevitably set up Karlsson for unrestricted free agency in a single season, as he would have that option if he initiated the process.
So, if the Golden Knights have to lose him, they might as well lose him earlier in the summer to an offer sheet. It’s the better of the two scenarios, even if each is admittedly quite bad. At least, this way, they maintain more control over how they decide to proceed without Karlsson, all the while earning a haul of futures that can keep the team competitive for many years to come.
It’s true, no one foresaw the Golden Knights being as competitive as they have been so soon. If the expansion fees weren’t enough, they’re now finding out everything, even success, comes with a price. One way or another, Karlsson’s next deal will be a big one to pay, wherever he ends up playing next year. If they pull off a miracle, it could be the Golden Knights, but they should at least know all the options available to them. If they’ve done their due diligence, they probably already do… and are anticipating an offer sheet as we speak.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.