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William Karlsson Deserves $6+ Million, But Vegas May Not Have It To Give Him

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the biggest stories of the offseason outside of Vegas is the stalemate between Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Marner was the 11th most productive player in the entire league last season and his stock has soared. So it appears the two sides are headed for a messy negotiation this summer in Toronto.

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.

Production

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.

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Locker Room Clean-Out Day Highlights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

In the final media availability of the season nearly every Golden Knights player spoke to the media. We also had extended press conferences with The Creator, George McPhee, and Gerard Gallant.

Of course, there will probably be 50 stories on this site based off many of the comments on this day, but we wanted to share some of the highlights from the day.

(If you would like to listen to every second of the nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes of locker room interviews that we participated in, go here or to our podcast feed.)

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“Behind The Scenes” Of A Massive Shorthanded Goal By William Karlsson

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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VGK’s First Line Owns San Jose

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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Golden Knights’ “Top” Line Playing Like It – Just In Time

**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.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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:

Marchessault — 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points
Smith — 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
Karlsson — 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points

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.

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Salary Cap Implications For The Golden Knights In The Aftermath Of The Mark Stone Trade

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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Time To Break Up The Top Six

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

The best way to do that, break up the top six.

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Top Line Reboot

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into this season the Golden Knights top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith were expected to lead the charge. A combined +116 with 92 goals a year ago between just the three had them as one of the best lines in all of hockey.

The chemistry they had in the regular season extended into the playoffs. It picked right back up when the trio was reunited in preseason to start this year. 20+ games in, the numbers weren’t quite as staggering as a year ago, but there was no question Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith were the best line the Golden Knights had and remained a force to be reckoned with.

But recently, it’s hit the skids. Prior to the game in Detroit, the last time Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith all had a point in the same game was on December 14th (a stretch of 12 games playing together and 23 total). Smith’s injury put a halt to the line altogether, but even before it, the previous 10 games they were together, they managed just 10 total points and only five goals. As importantly, the defense appeared to be slipping as well.

During Smith’s absence, it did not improve for Marchessault and Karlsson, instead it got much worse. The pair combined for five goals in nine games (four of which were scored in the same game), just four assists, and they posted a miserable -17 over the three-week span.

Yet, when Smith was ready, he wasn’t put back on the line with Marchessault and Karlsson, instead, Gallant gave them Valentin Zykov for a couple games, and there was a level of success. However, midway through the game in Detroit, following a penalty kill, Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith found themselves on the ice together once again, and it looked like the old days again.

They were a combined +5 in Thursday’s game, scored three goals and had five points, but more importantly, their shifts were dominant almost every time they touched the ice.

It wasn’t really a plan, I didn’t think the line was going as good as it could have, so sometimes you shake things up a little bit and piss people off a little bit maybe. It works sometimes. -Gerard Gallant

I’m not sure who Gallant was trying to “piss off” but it appeared to work… at least for one night.

It feels like a reboot and sometimes that’s just what a line needs. A fresh start, which they now have.

They’ve been real good. They’re finding some life there a little bit and I thought the last game was excellent. It’s all about timing, and I expect them to be good for the next 25 games. -Gallant

Tonight is a tough test against a terrific defensive team in the Blue Jackets. The last two times Vegas has faced Columbus, the Golden Knights scored a total of one goal.

However, the time before, the only trip Columbus has made to T-Mobile Arena, Vegas dropped six on them, including two from Karlsson and a pair of assists from Marchessault.

The Golden Knights need Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith to produce, whether they’re playing together or not. For now, they’re reunited. Hopefully, it keeps feeling as good as it did Thursday night in Detroit.

William Karlsson Embraces Being A Role Model To Kids In Las Vegas

I grew in the era of high-profile, wealthy athletes proudly stating “I am not a role model” to their young fans.

For those of you that don’t remember, NBA legend Charles Barkley starred in a semi-controversial Nike ad in the 90’s. While the message by Barkley was actually quite important, kids like myself had no clue what Sir Charles was expressing. We just assumed he didn’t care about us or the game and was only in it for the money.

But times have changed since Barkley played. Social media and other outlets have made it easier for players to interact with fans. Some grasp it, and some don’t, but either way, players have much more access getting their message out to fans.

One guy that understands the responsibility of being a local role model is Golden Knights center, William Karlsson.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are little kids watching and looking up to you, and you want to make a good example for those kids. Overall, in life you just try and be the best person you can be. And if that’s what being a good role model is, then I hope I am. -William Karlsson

Karlsson and I chatted a few weeks back about striving to become a good example for kids on and off the ice. In his point of view, it’s critical for the 26-year center to represent himself and the city of Las Vegas with class.

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Don’t Touch The New Top Six

Say hello to a new top six. Marchessault-Karlsson-Tuch & Pirri-Stastny-Smith. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It took until Game 8 of the Golden Knights inaugural season to find the combination of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, but once the eventual Jack Adams award winner Gerard Gallant found it, he rode it for all it was worth.

The oft-described “top line” of the Golden Knights took the league by storm scoring a combined 92 goals, 213 points, and an insane +116 rating. They found themselves in the debate as the best line in hockey and helped power an expansion team to a division and conference title.

But then, in the matter of literally a second, the line was broken up.

It was a gut feeling and wanted to change things up a little bit. -Gerard Gallant

Coach comes and tells you, Tuchy you’re going with Marchy and Karly and Smitty is going to go with your line. -Alex Tuch

I told Pirri just keep playing the same because we were playing well. -Paul Stastny

Down 2-1 in the game, Gallant swapped Tuch and Smith creating a line of Karlsson, Tuch, and Marchessault, and another of Stastny, Smith, and Pirri. From then on, the Golden Knights completely took over the game.

Vegas dominated possession, scored three straight goals (and another that was taken off due to an offside challenge) and completed a come back from a two-goal deficit to win their 6th straight home game.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We just wanted to change it up a little bit, fortunately for us, it worked. -Gallant

When you have a lot of depth at forward you can kind of juggle lines a little bit, there’s a fine line of doing it to much, but sometimes you need a little spark and that kind of just got a spark for the whole team. -Stastny

It’s not like it’s a demotion or anything, any line you can play on with this team is pretty special. It brought us a lot of momentum and energy to our game. -Smith

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