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Can VGK Afford Both Erik Karlsson & Bobby Ryan?

September 13, 2018, 2:00 AM ET [22 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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The Golden Knights will have to make some hard decisions if they want to fit both Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan's contracts under their belt.

They have no issue tackling both contracts in 2018-19. Both players have a combined $13.75 million dollar cap hit this year, while Vegas has $9,437,501 of cap space + David Clarkson's $5,250,000 to place on LTIR.

On Ottawa's side, it's worth noting that even without Karlsson and Ryan on the books, the Senators are still above the $58.8 million dollar salary floor. So they don't have to take any contracts back in this blockbuster.

Anyway, it's 2019-20 that will challenge George McPhee and company.

Right now, the Knights have eight forwards (not including Clarkson), four defensemen, and one goaltender under contract for 2019-20.

The roster maximum is 23 skaters, so let's assume that they will build a team comprised of 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goaltenders. I chose eight defensemen over seven because McPhee has stated his preference to go into a season with eight on multiple occasions.

These are the eight forwards (not including Clarkson) under contract for 2019-20:

View post on imgur.com

Let's insert Ryan:

View post on imgur.com

They'll need to add four more forwards.

These are the four defensemen under contract for 2019-20:

View post on imgur.com

They'll need to add four more defensemen.

This is the one goaltender under contract for 2019-20:

View post on imgur.com

They'll need to add one more goaltender.

Not including Clarkson -- and projecting the 2019-20 cap to rise to $84 million, matching the $4.5 million increase from 2017-18 to 2018-19 -- you essentially have $25.7 million of cap space.

Your most pressing UFAs are Erik Karlsson and Nate Schmidt. Your most pressing RFAs are William Karlsson and Alex Tuch. And let's not forget Nikita Gusev.

The top of your priority list, of course, is Erik Karlsson. Using Drew Doughty's recent eight-year, $88 million dollar extension ($11 million AAV) as a model, let's give Karlsson an eight-year, $92 million dollar extension ($11.5 million AAV) to make him the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL.

Next up is the other Karlsson. Let's say the 25-year-old follows his breakout 43-goal campaign last season with another 30+. He will be a UFA after 2019-20, so there will be some pressure to lock him up. Combining a now-proven goalscoring prowess with his defensive acumen, positional value, and age, and we're talking about an $8-10 million AAV first-line center. As a comp, let's use Evgeny Kuznetsov, who signed an eight-year, $62.4 million dollar extension ($7.8 million AAV) in July 2017. Like Karlsson, Kuznetsov was coming off a bridge contract and was a RFA. Let's give Karlsson a six-year, $51 million dollar extension ($8.5 million AAV).

Now Nate Schmidt. Let's assume that the 27-year-old comes back from his suspension without missing a beat and continues to play a well-rounded, top-pairing game. He's now a UFA. The underrated Dmitry Orlov -- before his UFA campaign, he signed a six-year, $30.6 million dollar contract ($5.1 million AAV) in June 2017 -- may present a best-case scenario comp for Vegas. Let's give Schmidt a five-year, $25 million dollar extension ($5 million AAV).

How about Nikita Gusev? If the sought-after KHL winger wants to skate in Las Vegas, Evgeni Dadonov's three-year, $12 million dollar ($4 million AAV) and Vadim Shipachyov's two-year, $9 million dollar ($4.5 million AAV) agreements from the summer of 2017 provide, ironically, a solid template. Let's give Gusev a three-year, $15 million dollar contract ($5 million AAV).

Finally, Tuch. Coming off his entry-level deal, the winger won't be arbitration-eligible, but he'll still be in line for a significant raise. If he scores 20+ in 2018-19, Ondrej Kase's three-year, $7.8 million dollar agreement ($2.6 million AAV) from August 2018 will probably be raised in negotiations. Let's give Tuch a three-year, $9 million dollar bridge deal ($3 million AAV).

Pretty good team, right?

Adding these potential Karlsson, Karlsson, Schmidt, Gusev, and Tuch contracts to the 2019-20 roster -- and Vegas is now almost $8 million dollars over the projected $84 million cap, even factoring in Clarkson on LTIR. Plus, the Golden Knights still need to add one more forward, two more defensemen, and a back-up goalie.

So realistically, to take on Karlsson and Ryan's contracts, the Golden Knights will have to make some tough decisions. Do they let Schmidt walk? Trade Erik Haula or Tuch or Gusev's rights?

Even if the Knights don't take back Ryan's contract -- which means probably gutting the farm system further to acquire Karlsson without this millstone -- they're going to have some serious cap challenges if they extend Karlsson.

Of course, McPhee may have creative solutions to work around some of these problems. And the point of this exercise isn't to suggest that Vegas shouldn't trade for or extend Erik Karlsson. He's a special, special player.

But it's a hard cap world, and hard decisions will have to made to accommodate Karlsson.

Here's a projected 2019-20 roster with Erik Karlsson, without Bobby Ryan:

View post on imgur.com

(New contracts highlighted in yellow.)

Shea Theodore and Erik Brannstrom have already been sent to the Senators for Karlsson. Deryk Engelland has been phased out. Gusev's rights have been traded away, perhaps with Cody Eakin's contract, for a draft pick.

Erik Karlsson is scheduled to address Ottawa media on Thursday. We'll see if the end is really in sight for this saga.


Stats as of 9/11/18, courtesy of Cap Friendly, Corsica, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, and Sporting Charts.

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