Does William Karlsson Fit in Golden Knights’ Future?

William Karlsson is going to get paid this summer. The question is, will it be by the Golden Knights or by one of the other 30 clubs in the league?

After scoring 43 goals in the 2017-2018 season and adding another seven in those playoffs, then-general manager George McPhee gave him a “prove it” contract for one year at $5.25 million. Karlsson didn’t match those numbers this season, but he was still a catalyst for the Golden Knights’ offense and a major contributor on the penalty kill and in his own zone.

He was the team’s first No. 1 center and captured the hearts of all Vegas residents in their inaugural season with his up-tempo game, finesse moves, and goal scoring. He is a fan favorite and if the Golden Knights decide to move on, it will be the first tough decision of new GM Kelly McCrimmon’s tenure in Vegas.

William Karlsson will be a restricted free agent this summer. (THW Archives)

With the salary cap projected to hit $83 million this summer, it would leave Vegas with less than $1 million to fill five additional roster spots, as they already have $82.375 million committed towards players next season. However, $5.25 million of that will be put on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) once the season starts as David Clarkson is done with his playing career.

Golden Knights Cap Crunch

Theoretically, the Golden Knights can forget about Clarkson’s cap hit over the summer because the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows teams to go over the salary cap by 10% during the offseason, which would come out to $8.3 million.

So if we put aside Clarkson’s $5.25 cap hit, the Golden Knights would have roughly $6 million to play with, barring any trades. Even with Karlsson’s down season, he could easily command $7 million on the open market.

However, Karlsson will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Golden Knights own his rights and he can’t walk away for free. Teams could sign Karlsson to an offer sheet and Vegas would receive compensation in the form of draft picks, but the league has not seen an RFA sign an offer sheet since 2013. They could trade Karlsson’s rights to another team for some compensation, but other general managers know McCrimmon is handcuffed so they would not give up much.

William Karlsson #71, Vegas Golden Knights
William Karlsson has an interesting free agent case. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Kids – Cody Glass and Jake Leschyshyn

Most of the young players that the Golden Knights acquired in the expansion draft have new contracts kicking in this summer which will handcuff Vegas in resigning Karlsson. Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, and Marc-Andre Fleury are already getting raises next season, along with recent acquisitions Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.

Cody Glass
Cody Glass was drafted sixth overall in 2017. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This means the Golden Knights will have to rely on younger players on their entry-level deals to come in and contribute. Prospects Cody Glass and Jake Leschyshyn are two options that can come in and potentially contribute right away.

Glass was the first ever draft selection for the Golden Knights when he was taken sixth overall in 2017. He put up 54 assists and 69 points in only 38 games in 2018-2019 for the Portland Winterhawks, displaying his dazzling play-making abilities and his tremendous two-way hockey sense. With the number of young players jumping from the junior rank to the professional game, it is easy to envision Glass making the Golden Knights in October.

Leschyshyn was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft and really broke out in the WHL this season. He scored 40 goals and 81 points in 68 games, but he played a real gritty, two-way game. His IQ always keeps him on the right side of the puck, much like Karlsson, but he doesn’t possess that same flash as Wild Bill.

These are the core players that management wants to build this team around and Glass is ready for full-time duty, so where does that leave Karlsson? If McCrimmon decides to move him, Vegas has a good history of moving pieces for future assets.

Jake Leschyshyn
Golden Knights draft pick Jake Leschyshyn (Keith Hershmiller / Regina Pats)

Potential Suitors

McCrimmon won’t have any issues trying to deal the 26-year-old center since most teams like to build their roster down the middle. Acquiring Karlsson would instantly boost any potential line-up and these are the teams looking for extra help down the middle:

  • Buffalo Sabres – After Jack Eichel, the Sabres do not have much depth down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt is 20 years old with tons of skill, but he needs a couple of seasons to develop. Having Wild Bill to fill the void until Mittelstadt is ready would be ideal.
  • Ottawa Senators – The Senators have a ton of holes to fill and lots of cap space to work with. They will need to spend some of that to hit the cap floor, so the Senators make sense for Karlsson money wise.
  • New York Islanders – The Islanders have a few big free agents of their own they need to re-sign this summer, but if they can’t come to terms with all of them, that would open the door for Karlsson. After Mathew Barzal, they don’t have a true No. 2 center, and Karlsson plays a perfect Barry Trotz game.
  • New York Rangers – The Rangers are in a full-on rebuild and will have plenty of cap space this offseason. They are always a team that will spend to the limit and a Swedish one-two punch of Mika Zibanejad and Karlsson would be lethal for the Rangers.
  • Dallas Stars – The Stars don’t have much depth behind Tyler Seguin down the middle. With over $20 million of cap space coming off the books this summer, look for the Stars to land some offensive help. Karlsson could be their guy.
  • Colorado Avalanche – GM Joe Sakic and the Avs currently have the least amount of money on the books for next season (though they have to lock up Mikko Rantanen, among others) and Sakic has said he is going to be aggressive this summer. The Avs need more scoring depth and Karlsson would fill in as a perfect second-line center and fit right in with the other Swedes in the Mile High city.
William Karlsson Golden Knights
William Karlsson (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Much like every offseason, general managers look to make their team better and McCrimmon has his hands tied dollar wise, so he is going to have to be creative with the decisions he makes. If Karlsson’s time is done in Vegas, the fans will be disappointed, but the Golden Knights have a number of options to replace him with.