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What To Do With William Karlsson’s Contract

Wonder what the Blue Jackets think of all this? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

While most of the hockey world is focused on Erik Karlsson, the Karlsson Vegas already has might be just an interesting a story this offseason. William Karlsson’s monster season has him in line for a massive raise, but as an RFA, and with just one dominant year in the books, the right contract for both sides could look many different ways.

The 25-year-old Swede scored 43 goals, became a top line center on the Western Conference champions, won the Lady Byng Trophy, and finished top 10 in both Selke and Hart voting. He posted career highs in goals, assists, points, time on ice, shots on goal, shot attempts, shooting percentage, face-off percentage, takeaways, Corsi for, and just about every other advanced stat hockey keeps. It was, in every sense of the word, a career year.

But, it was a career year playing on a new team, in a new situation, with new linemates, a new coach, and totally new responsibility. Moving forward, Karlsson will be expected to play the same role with the same responsibility for the Golden Knights. The question is, how should he be paid?

There are really two ways a deal for Karlsson can go, either a short-term “bridge deal” that would make him an unrestricted free agent in two years or a long-term deal that keeps him with the Golden Knights until he’s into his 30’s. So let’s play the pros and cons game for both sides to illustrate how challenging these negotiations are likely going to be.

Short-term deal

  • Golden Knights
    • Pros: The biggest benefit would be to protect the team against the possibility of last year being an outlier. A short-term deal would allow the Golden Knights to see if Karlsson is closer to the 43 goal scorer or the six goal scorer before they commit major money to him long term. If he’s the same guy, you pay your superstar, if he’s not, you saved yourself against a miserable contract that will be tough to get rid of in the future. Another ancillary benefit is the short-term deal would likely be much cheaper as it’s setting Karlsson up to get paid again in a few years. He’d likely be in the $3-5 million range for the next two years giving the Golden Knights even more flexibility to pull off that big trade everybody’s been waiting for.
    • Cons: The team would be in danger of having their best player be eligible for unrestricted free agency sooner rather than later. That means either they pay him the massive contract he’s worth (assuming he remains 2017-18 Karlsson) or be exposed to the possibility of losing him to another team for nothing.
  • William Karlsson
    • Pros: The more times a player comes up for a new contract, the more money he stands to make. Right now there’s some doubt if 17-18 was a fluke or whether it’s the norm. A short-term deal allows Karlsson to bet on himself, prove it, and then be worth double what he’s worth now.
    • Cons: Regression is probably more likely than not. This may be the only chance he’ll ever have to make $40+ million and be set for life, taking a short-term deal would be passing that up.

Long-Term Deal

  • Golden Knights
    • Pros: This might be the cheapest William Karlsson will ever come. If he’s the superstar he appeared to be last season, locking him up at the $5-7 million price tag now will look like the steal of the century five years down the road. If Karlsson remains a Selke/Hart candidate over the next few years he’ll be grossly underpaid, which will allow the Golden Knights plenty of cap space to bring in other players.
    • Cons: Paying players based on a few or in Karlsson’s case, one big year often leads to horribly overpaid contracts that become cap stressers.
  • William Karlsson
    • Pros: Financial stability for life. After one well-timed massive season, Karlsson reasonably stands to sign a contract worth more than $40 million. He’s made less than $5 million in his career, so the idea of cashing in now has to be tempting. It will relieve a lot of the “show me” stress that would come with having to live up to expectations every season until he hits free agency.
    • Cons: Cashing in too early. If Karlsson believes he can be a 30+ goal scorer, a Selke candidate, and remain the top center on one of the best teams in the league, as great as the $40 million looks, he could be leaving another $40 on the table. A long-term deal at age 27 coming off three superstar seasons would likely earn him more than $10 million a year for seven or eight seasons. $40 million looks good, but $80+ million looks better.

That was all fairly generic too. In short, this is a complicated situation.

While the Golden Knights hold a ton of power in the fact that Karlsson can only sign a deal with them, Karlsson is not completely void of negotiating power himself. Because arbitration is only allowed to hand out a maximum of a two-year contract, if Karlsson wants the short-term deal, he’s guaranteed to get it.

Like every good Vegas story, it’s going to come down to gambling. Does Karlsson gamble on himself or are the Golden Knights willing to take the long-term gamble?  No matter how this shakes out, there’s an inherent risk for each side.

Personally, I’m rooting for a seven-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million per year. That’s $42 million for Karlsson, while the Golden Knights would have their entire top line locked up through 2022 for just $16 million. That’s about 20% of the salary cap today, and will only get better as the cap raises in subsequent seasons.

My honest guess though is that Karlsson will opt for the “bridge deal.” A two-year deal that will get him to age 27, and therefore make him an unrestricted free agent. The price tag would probably be around $4-5 million per year. Not the end of the world, but if he ends up continuing to be the player we saw last year, and I think he will, McPhee and Co. will look back at this offseason as the one that got away, because of the Karlsson they already had, not the one they wanted to get.

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13 Comments

  1. Phil Esposito

    Pay the man. 6.5 x 7 but would he even take it ?? Arbiter is going higher than 6.5 is my guess. $16.5 mil tied up in the top line is well within reason. Yes–he could regress. Fact is most ALL the players who had career years should. Sorta unrealistic to have a career year, year after year after year. But those 3 guys gelled real well with each other. Why would they “un-gel” after one year? Gotta believe after Marchy “possibly” leaving a little on the table by matching Smitty, GMGM is probably laying down a 5mil x 7 deal.

    • Jeff

      An abitator will not pay him 6.5. He will get 4.5 at the most.

  2. BL

    Big fan of Karlsson, but the Ryan contract that is Ottawa’s albatross always comes to mind when paying 6.5 for more than 6 years. Still would do the 6 for 7, though.

    Question: Karlsson doesn’t body check very hard, while Marchey will straight run into guys and being smaller. Any work being done to get him a little more physical?

    • Ryan Craig

      OH NO……don’t tell me you lumping Karly and Ryan together………come on……they gonna be teammates by Monday….. !!

      Why does Karly need to be more “physical” on the body check?? Dude did pretty well last year with Marchy and Smitty as was, didn’t he ?? Karly got REAL physical on the forecheck with his stick taking away the puck and what more can you want/ say on his +/- and corsi.

      • Steve Carpenter

        Rarely, if ever, can I read a piece and not find ways to blow holes in every argument made. That was until I read the rationale and reason you applied to every facet of the WM Karlsson contract argument. Thus, I will simply say, “well said sir. Every point you made was brilliant”. Just sign the man already.

      • BL

        Lol. Yes, the stick check was awesome. He has such an active stick and works as a two-way player. Not to mention some of his passing for breakaways. Those stats are not a victim of shooting percentage.

        Which seems to me to make him more appealing. A 30+ goal scorer and play maker that goes two ways?

        I apologize for lumping him with Ryan, whose had a lot of bad luck with fingers. Maybe he can play with Iron Gauntlets, like a true knight.

  3. Blake Chinn

    I have no problem with 5 for 7 years… question is does Karly want 5 for 7. If so… Pay the man, right the contract .

  4. Joe

    I do think he signs a bridge deal in the neighborhood of $3.5 per. If the Knights want to take a gamble and go for a longer term, then just offer the same deal that they gave Marchessault. The entire line would have the same cap hit and you don’t have to worry about anyone’s ego.

  5. RJ

    Seems easy. If we can get Karlsson to sign a long (6+y), reasonable (<$7M AAV) do it and don’t think twice. He is coming off a season that might be his best ever, but 43 goal seasons aren’t flukes even if he doesn’t match it again. He will be good for 30+ goals multiple times over this contract. + 49 is a number so ridiculous in modern hockey the last time a player had a +40 was in 2010. This kid can play every foot of the ice at an elite level.

    We don’t need 43 goals, +49, and a Lady Bing to make a 7x7contract worth it. If he averages 25 goals and plays 1st line defense then that’s a fair contract in my opinion. Not a great contract, but a fair one.

    So many people are afraid of being a fluke, but his season was one of such extreme success, that it would be a whole separate statistical anamoly for him to regress to the point that a 7×7 contract won’t be a good deal.

    Who are these big, terrible contracts for young players that have come off a truly elite year? I mean it, who is the contract you are looking at that we should be afraid is prelude to William Karlsson?

    Bobby Ryan was 28 (3 years older than WK), was already on the decline, and had NEVER had a year as good as Karlsson last season. Almost exactly the same story for Dustin Brown and a bunch of other guys.

    Rick DiPietro May have been as good as advertised, but we will never know because of multiple, significant injuries.

    Loui Erikkson, Frans Neilson, Jeff Finger, and Troy Brouwer were really never that great in the first place, they just got lucky with a GM with money burning a whole in their pocket.

    There’s a good chance who ever you are think William Karlsson is like, it is not like that.

    A bridge deal that everyone seems to like only protects us from something that is statistically unlikely. It’s like buying insurance on a blackjack table, seems like a good bet if you don’t know the math.

    If we can get Karlsson for ~7×7 (Ryan O’Reilly, David Krejci money) we almost certainly won’t be sorry. Either he will live up to that contract-nothing more or less; there is a great chance we have the best value contract in the NHL; or he is an extreme statical anomaly.

    I’ll happily take my chance with Wild Bill.

    • Jeff

      I disagree. Based on Karlsson’s career I believe there is more of a chance that he reverts to 10 goal seasons then he maintains anything near 30 goal seasons. This season is an anomaly, even in the AHL and his junior hockey career he never showed this kind of fire power. You don’t commit to a player for a large contract after one career year. It’s not good business. I am not going to go back and check every contract and it really doesn’t even matter to me if this is a first time circumstance. It just does not make any sense to commit that much money to a player that hasn’t proven his worth over the course of his career. MAke him do it again then pay the man. You start throwing big money at player’s because of a good year and that cap space everyone loves to talk about will be gone quick.

      • Robert

        You just have to look at the between the legs goal that he scored against the Ducks to realize this kid is coming into his own and is the real deal. He flourishes in the VGK system while being used wrong with the Blue Jackets. That’s why the career stats point to this season being a fluke when it really wasn’t. This season was a great season and he will be hard pressed to keep scoring 40+ goals but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth 7+ a year.

        • RHM

          Come off of it. Every kids that skates in Canada practices that in between the legs move; it isn’t THAT impressive. It’s a pond hockey move. A good snap shot or a right-left deke was probably a better percentage play in that situation.

          If the Knights are smart they will only offer a bridge deal in the 3-4 million range. if he repeats 30-40 goal seasons he’s worth the 7 million+ contract, if he scores 20 or less, it isn’t a huge loss.

          The reality is the Knights are not going to be as successful in 2018-19, there is going to be regression because they aren’t a 100+ point team. The players are going to regress a bit as well. Vegas will have their sophomore slump as will many of their players. The Cinderella story is over. I’m not saying they won’t be a good team, but everyone in the division is ready to stomp their boots down their throats and the Eastern teams will begin to focus on playing the game rather than “Vegas”.

  6. John T

    While he certainly could regress to something less than the previous season, I will say in his defense, that in his junior career he was never expected to be anything more than a setup man. There were veteran players with clearly superior goal scoring talent already in place. His job was merely to get the puck to them. Lots of points off assists in Sweden. You spend a brief time in the AHL and suddenly your Mario Lemieux? Nope. You go with what you know. And that would leave everyone disappointed. Good luck getting ice time. VGK was the first time anyone put him in a hopeless position: You have the puck and no clear person to give it off to for the goal. He had to become the scorer. Worst thing we could do is put him on a line with Stastny and watch him go back to being the feeder.

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