It continues to be that dull time of year, and while we patiently wait for hockey to begin, silly, objective lists dominate the (news) flow. The NHL Network turns into a tabloid, work distraction type outlet like Buzzfeed.
Let’s begin with NHL Network’s Top 20 Center list.
To state the obvious, William Karlsson continues to get stiffed. First he agrees to a team-first, team-friendly extended deal, and then he gets left off the NHL Network’s 2019 Top 20 Center list. It’s immediately confusing because Karlsson made the cut last year, coming in at #17. Ahead of centers like Logan Couture and Sebastian Aho, who are both on 2019’s list.
I don’t know why they do these things. I guess it causes controversy. It’s such a reputation thing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the pundits think. It matters what the coaching staff thinks, what your teammates think, and where you fit in the salary cap, and what the fans think of you.-Gord Miller, TSN Montreal 690
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many elite centers in the NHL but Karlsson deserves to get a top 20 nod just as much as Couture, Aho, Sean Monahan, and Elias Peterson. Maybe the NHL Network got confused when Karlsson signed a second-line center’s contract.
The importance of winning the faceoff battle has been a three-year reoccurring argument here at SinBin.vegas. In my opinion, it’s all about possession. When a center wins a draw his team has immediate control and should safely get the puck out of their zone. Or create an offensive push towards the opponent’s direction. Whoever wins the possession battle, should dictate the game.
He’s not concerned with a lost draw if Vegas’ forecheck, shooting percentage, and rebound control are positively effective. For the most I agree, but remember a forechecking attack begins with the puck, and there’s a good chance it was possessed by a winning faceoff.
2018-19 Golden Knights Faceoff Percentage Breakdown
Record when winning 51% or more Faceoffs: (20-11-2)
Record when losing 51% or more Faceoffs: (14-16-3)
Record when Faceoff % is 50/50: (9-5-2)
While it’s clear the Golden Knights have a better record when they win more faceoffs, the formula isn’t as simple as you’d think. At first glance the numbers support my argument, but looking deeper, the higher the FO% didn’t guarantee a Vegas victory. In five separate games, Golden Knights’ centers won 60% or more from the dot. Their record was (1-4). Even furthering the madness, Vegas was (2-2) in games they lost more than 60% of draws.
George McPhee took to the podium yesterday following the announcement of William Karlsson’s 8-year $5.9M AAV contract extension. He hit on a range of topics surrounding the current state of the team.
We’ve transcribed all of the best parts, and I’ve added a little analysis to each comment.
Well, we are going to have to make a few moves. We’ve planned for that and we’re going through that exercise right now and when we’re done we’ll talk about it and explain it. -McPhee
Further confirmation of what we’ve all pretty much been expecting since that fateful night in San Jose. Moves are coming, they are going to hurt, but in the long run, it should make this roster better. I did some digging as to when it seems like it all might get done, and my feel is by July 4th at the very latest. I think the goal is for it to all be complete by the end of the week, but sometimes trades linger because there are two parties, so it may take a bit longer to wrap it all up.
The Clarkson contract really isn’t the issue that people think it is because you can just replace that salary at the right time. It can get cumbersome for some teams in the middle of the summer but typically it doesn’t matter once you get to the season. -McPhee
LTIR is a powerful tool if you know how to use it and it appears the Golden Knights do. Vegas isn’t paying someone to take that contract off their hands.
(Karlsson’s) contract is consistent with our other core players in terms of value so it worked out. -McPhee
The core is William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, and Marc-Andre Fleury. All are signed through the 2021-22 season (the next three seasons) with many signed well beyond. Karlsson’s contract comes in below Stone, Pacioretty, and Fleury, but above everyone else in the core. Still seems quite undervalued to me, but hey, money ain’t everything.
The great news with (Karlsson) is that if he ever tailed off at the end of that contract he’s still a really useful player because he’s great defensively and you can play him all over the lineup. -McPhee
Nothing new on Karlsson since he really burst onto the scene midway through 2017-18. He’s a stud on both ends of the ice and even if his offensive game fizzles, he’s still going to slow down the other team’s best players and he’s going to kill penalties. Of all the long-term deals Vegas has signed, he’s the one I’m least concerned about working out at the end of it.
One of the reasons we’ve done this is because we’ve tried to utilize what we call the perishable cap space and get a lot of core guys locked up now for a while because we’ll be tight this year on the cap but going forward we’ll be in a really good position. And those guys are really our core players, they are at the right age, and they fit what we are trying to build here and we expect to be a good team for a while as a result. The cap certainty helps, you can plan a lot better and we wanted to use up that inventory, cap space, now to really benefit us in the future and we believe we’re making the right decisions on these players. It’s not easy to put a good team together and keep it together but this is a major step in doing that. -McPhee
Building a winning roster is tough, keeping it is even harder. The strategy the Golden Knights have tried to deploy is to lock up everyone before they reach the ultimate goal so they aren’t stuck with impossible decisions afterward. Look at Chicago, Los Angeles, and now Pittsburgh, it doesn’t look so good anymore, but Washington doesn’t look that way. It’s risky because it may never pay off with the Cup, but if it does, this isn’t a roster that will have to be torn apart after they win.
Realistically our situation in Vegas is really attractive, (players) really like playing here, and the tax implications and cost of living here matters. The players are really savvy, they understand what they’d have to make somewhere else to net what they take home here. I think Karlsson’s contract in most markets would have to be about $7.5 to net what you have here, and that’s in the average NHL market, and in California I think it’s $9.5, but the bottom line is the fit is right and he’s happy and you can’t put a price on that. -McPhee
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.