It appears to be a terrific deal for both sides as everyone gets exactly what they wanted heading into this offseason.
For the Golden Knights, they keep their top line center, lock him into a long-term deal, and don’t break the bank in doing so. And, the Golden Knights get it done in a timely fashion, which allows them to start working on the rest of their offseason needs.
For Karlsson, it has always appeared the most important thing to him is staying in Vegas. He probably could have made more money if he had signed a one-year or bridge deal, but that would have likely resulted in him ending up with another team (maybe even being traded this offseason).
Instead, he’ll be taking home a guaranteed $47 million and staying with the team that helped him go from a relative unknown to a fan-favorite and Vegas superstar.
With the deal expected to be signed in the next few days, we’ll have much more on this in the coming days.
The Golden Knights weren’t able to repeat as Western Conference Champions (#NotAMajor), but they were able to successfully defend another title in year 2018-19.
For the second straight year, the Golden Knights sold the most jerseys in the NHL according to CMO Brian Killingsworth.
In Year 1, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the expansion team would top the list as literally every fan had to buy a new jersey. But to keep it up in Year 2 is quite the achievement.
The Golden Knights also topped the NHL in sales per cap (measured by fans/attendance) at in-arena team stores. And, Killingsworth confirmed during the 2018 playoff run people from over 110 countries bought Golden Knights apparel.
Marc-Andre Fleury finished atop the list of Golden Knights players for most jerseys sold and ranked 3rd behind Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
The top five Golden Knights jerseys sold were:
Killingsworth noted that Mark Stone made a strong push towards the top five in the few months following the trade deadline but didn’t quite crack the top five.
All in all, another year of dominance in the apparel market for the Golden Knights. It will be challenging to repeat as champs again in Years 3 and 4, and even tougher in Year 5 with the Seattle expansion franchise coming in, but if any city can do it, it’s Vegas.
Sometime in the next 2 months, William Karlsson will file for arbitration as a restricted free agent. At that point, the most important contract negotiation in the history of the Vegas Golden Knights will officially be on the clock.
Don’t believe me on that claim? Keep reading.
The options are endless with what might happen with Karlsson moving forward. One year deal, bridge, long-term, arbitration, offer sheet, trade, you name it, the ultimate outcome of the negotiations could go any which way.
Each option leads the Golden Knights down a different path, and the concern for many Vegas fans (and tall skinny bald dudes who write about the team) is that it could end up seeing #71 on the back of a different jersey before too long.
As crazy as it may sound, there are multiple ways Karlsson ends up with another team, as soon as this offseason; especially if he values money above all else. So, I thought, let’s take a look at what the Golden Knights roster would look like without him. Then, we’ll all head to the Vatican and tell the newest VGK fan to urge McPhee, McCrimmon, and company to not let this happen.
The first issue is who would fill the void on the “first line.” The answer likely isn’t simple as the Golden Knights only true replacement for Karlsson are prospects. Paul Stastny, Cody Eakin, and Erik Haula are all very different players than Karlsson. Karlsson is a well-rounded center who excels at just about every aspect of the game aside from faceoffs. He’s superb defensively, he drives offense, he scores, he has excellent vision, his stamina is second to none, and he makes the right play 99 times out of 100.
Vegas’ other centers are all excellent players, but none have all the assets of Karlsson. This being said, Cody Glass, Ivan Morozov, Paul Cotter, or whoever Vegas picks at 17 in the upcoming draft may, we just don’t know yet. Glass is obviously the closest, but even he probably isn’t going to be ready to be a top-six center in the NHL in 2019-20 or even 2020-21. Morozov and Cotter definitely aren’t ready, and the draft pick only has a chance if the Golden Knights move up from 17 (and even then it’s a longshot).
Cody Eakin would likely get the spot, but even if he thrives, it still leaves a major void down the Golden Knights depth chart. It would almost certainly force the Golden Knights to bring back Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and/or Ryan Carpenter, and it might even lead to Tomas Nosek becoming a full-time center.
Otherwise, we’re looking at T.J. Tynan (UFA), Gage Quinney, or Brooks Macek (UFA) from within the system or someone from the outside coming in. Realistically, we’re talking about a player like Marcus Johansson, Colin Wilson, Ryan Dzingel, or Tyler Ennis. And even then, the price may be too high as the Golden Knights would be looking for a bargain.
To a smaller degree, the Golden Knights have their own Mitch Marner situation.
Like Marner, Golden Knights center William Karlsson is a restricted free agent that wants a long-term deal. Both sides seem to have an interest in getting a deal done to keep Karlsson in Vegas for the foreseeable future, but we’ve been down this path before and it ended in a one-year deal moments before arbitration.
The challenge is with where Karlsson fits in with the rest of the roster. He’s clearly not on Mark Stone’s ($9.5M) level, but is he on Max Pacioretty’s ($7M) or Paul Stastny’s ($6.5M)? Or maybe he should fit in closer to Reilly Smith ($5M), Jonathan Marchessault ($5M), or Alex Tuch ($4.75M).
Karlsson is a center though, and a damn good one at that. He finished in the top 10 in Selke voting in 2017-18 and won the Lady Byng. He backed it up with a down year offensively but carried the torch for the Golden Knights defensively until Stone arrived. So, he probably deserves more than most of the wingers on the team, but the Golden Knights may not have the money.
There in lies the problem, because like it or not, William Karlsson deserves at least $6 million, if not much more. Here’s why.
He’s a center
We’re all aware that centers make up some of the highest paid played players in the league. Currently, seven of the top ten highest paid NHL players are centers, and 19 of the top 50. Karlsson’s 2018-19 $5.25M cap hit was lower than 152 other NHL’ers, and 46 other centers. Numbers alone, Karlsson is a better player than half of the players paid higher.
Only a handful of centers scored 67 or more goals over the past two seasons and Karlsson was one of them. Most of those centers earn well above $6M a season. It’s the market price for two-way centers that log heavy minutes, handle faceoffs, averages 65+ points and receives Selke votes.
Some have devalued Karlsson after a “sub-par” 2018-19 campaign. Sure his scoring numbers dropped after his offensive explosion two seasons ago, but overall the Swede continued to produce for Vegas.
Gallant says he absolutely considered using Gusev in the series but basically said in the end it came down to the fact that he didn't fully know the systems and it wasn't worth the risk. Opted for Pirri and he thought he played great in Game 7.
Think back to last year, when the Golden Knights traveled up to San Jose for Games 3 and 4 of the second round series with the Sharks. After a wild Game 2 in which Vegas had their game-winning goal wiped off the board, the series was tied 1-1. The Golden Knights took a two-goal lead into the locker room for the second intermission.
Then, all hell broke loose and the Sharks scored not one but two goals to tie up the game and send the pivotal Game 3 into overtime. On that night, a loss in San Jose could have devastated the Golden Knights chances to continue their magical inaugural season. Luckily, William Karlsson was there to save the day, scoring a game-winner on a gorgeous shot past Martin Jones.
Now, fast forward 348 days to Game 2 in San Jose. Once again, the Golden Knights are in danger of watching their season slip away unless they can salvage a road game at the SAP Center. They had amassed a three-goal lead and blew it inside of the 1st period. They allowed a goal that was eventually waved off. And heading into the 3rd they had successfully killed five of six penalties, but a seventh one early in the final frame looked like it could have been the one to help San Jose tie a 4-3 game.
The first minute of the power play the Sharks looked dangerous including shots from Brent Burns and Logan Couture and an Erik Karlsson shot that was blocked. After a few clearances, the Sharks finally got set up perfectly in the zone, with Brent Burns on one point, Erik Karlsson on the other, and Joe Pavelski screening Fleury. The puck went from Burns to Karlsson, back to Burns, to Karlsson, to Burns, to Karlsson, back to Burns, and then on to the stick of Joe Thornton who was walking in towards Fleury. Thornton tried to slide one towards Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl in front of Fleury, but the shot pass was blocked by Schmidt.
From there, I’ll let the man who ended up turning the game on its head, William Karlsson, take over.
It was off a shot and it came off to the half wall and I saw that we were going to be first to the puck, that Reilly was going to get to it first. Then I saw Burns go and then he hesitated and I saw he was caught in between. I knew Thornton was on the other side, so I just tried to skate as fast as I could to that hole. And then Reilly’s pass was just unbelievable. -Karlsson
The pass was fired diagonally in between the two bearded beasts. It had some heat on it, but Karlsson caught it in stride heading in on a 1-on-none breakaway.
20 goals, 37 assists, and a +35 rating in 14 games. Those are the combined numbers for William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith against the San Jose Sharks since joining the Vegas Golden Knights.
In the playoff series last year, the Golden Knights top line went off, scoring eight goals and racking up a total of 25 points. One of the three scored a goal in every game of the series save for Game 4 when Vegas was shut out. They all posted a 54% Corsi at even strength, owned 55% of the scoring chances while playing against the Sharks top players, and scored six goals while allowing just one.
Nothing has changed this season either. Karlsson has scored three times in four games against the Sharks, Smith has a goal and six assists, Marchessault has two goals, and all three are at least a +4.
All in all, the Golden Knights top line have averaged 1.43 goals, 2.64 assists, and +2.5 per game against San Jose.
This must continue as we head into the first round series with the Sharks. San Jose has one of the most balanced forward units in the NHL, but what they don’t have is a truly dominant first line, either offensively or defensively. Therefore, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith should have a favorable matchup each and every time they step on the ice.
Well, I mean, we wanna be there every night producing, right? That’s a challenge, I think. San Jose is a great team so we gotta be there every single night and every game counts. -William Karlsson
Since the Trade Deadline, when the Golden Knights added Mark Stone and the Sharks picked up Gustav Nyquist, the Sharks have deployed Nyquist (with Timo Meier and Logan Couture) primarily against Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith. It has not gone well for the Sharks… to say the least.
In about seven and a half minutes against the Golden Knights top line, Nyquist has been on the ice for five goals while scoring just one, his Corsi is 33%, and his team has landed just three shots with him on the ice. It’s not much better for Meier or Couture either as both have also been on the ice for at least three goals against as well.
**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.**
For the first couple of weeks of March, you were sure the world had flipped upside down.
Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty and the recently acquired Mark Stone were the Golden Knights’ top line. They were competing. They were scoring. They were dominating at both ends of the ice.
It made you wonder what was going on with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, the Knights’ regular No. 1 unit. They had been running hot and cold most of the year and if you were the opposing team’s coach, you had greater concerns for the Stastny line.
But as we have seen the past week, Karlsson, Marchessault, and Smith are playing like the top line they should be. And could the timing be better?
We’re in the final push to the playoffs. The Knights, who are likely to remain in third place in the Pacific Division, have 41 wins and 87 points with nine games to play, seven behind second-place San Jose and nine in front of Arizona, which is batting for the final wild card spot.
And while it’s easy for us to look ahead to the second week of April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if you’re Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith, these final 2 1/2 weeks, beginning Thursday at T-Mobile Arena against Winnipeg, are critical in building momentum and confidence. You want to go into the postseason playing your best hockey and we’re seeing signs of that from the line.
Here’s the way things have broken down over the last five games, which saw the Knights go 4-1 as part of their current 9-1 run:
That’s a combined seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points, an average of four points a game for the line. Any coach would take that kind of productivity.
So what changed?
Part of it is Smith is 100 percent healthy and he has remained on the line after Gerard Gallant moved him around after he returned to the ice after he missed nearly a month in early January with an injury. When he’s right and playing his game, Smith is arguably the best two-way winger on the Knights, though some may point to Stone and say he has supplanted Smith in that role.
Marchessault? His thing is putting the puck in the net. And with back-to-back two-goal games, he may be finding his groove. Granted, he beat a sieve of a goalie Sunday in Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen, who could have the worst glove I’ve seen from an NHL goalie in years. But think about all the times we’ve seen Marchessault look up to the heavens after hitting a crossbar, missing an open net or getting robbed by the other team’s goalie? Things tend to even themselves out in hockey and if you’re a goal-scorer like Marchessault, your puck luck ultimately finds its level.
As the dust settles on the Mark Stone trade, it’s time to start looking at the future of the Vegas Golden Knights as it relates to the salary cap.
The salary cap was set at $79,500,000 this season. The normal increase in salary cap from year to year is about 2-5%. Last season the cap increased by $4.5M. It should be expected that the cap increase from this season to next will be in the neighborhood of $4M to $7M.
Thus, we can expect the salary cap to be somewhere around $85,000,000.
According to CapFriendly.com, the best salary cap site on the Internet, the Golden Knights projected cap hit for 2019-20 is $72,875,000 without Stone’s imminent $9.5M AAV extension. So, just with Stone, the Golden Knights are looking at a projected cap hit of just under $82,375,000.
The Golden Knights still have David Clarkson on the roster. His contract can be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) next season. There are some oddities to that rule, but for simplification sake, Vegas can get around $5.25M in salary cap relief by making this move.
Therefore, if nothing changes, Vegas should have around $7,875,000 left to work with.
Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.
Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.
Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.
The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.
Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.
With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.