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Should VGK Have Locked William Karlsson Up Long-Term?

August 7, 2018, 1:52 PM ET [21 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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"Opportunity" isn't how most people would describe William Karlsson's recently-resolved contract situation.

On Saturday, before his scheduled arbitration hearing, Karlsson inked a one-year, $5.25 million dollar pact. It's a "show me" contract for the 25-year-old who shattered expectations by scoring 43 goals last year after just 18 in his previous three seasons.

It's also a safe, sensible agreement for both Karlsson and the Golden Knights. The Swede sets himself up for a superstar-like payday if he comes close to duplicating his breakout campaign. George McPhee protects himself in case Karlsson is a one-hit wonder.

Personally, and this is with no knowledge about what Karlsson wanted or McPhee offered long-term, I would've taken the opportunity to try to lock up Karlsson for multiple years. It's not often that a young, two-way (possible) first-line forward becomes available at a potential discount. It's seeing Karlsson's lack of a track record -- hence the potential discount -- not as risk, but as reward.

I would've offered Karlsson a maximum of $6.5 million per for 3-5 years.

My suggested term is rooted in the premise of not paying forwards into their 30s, when their production usually wanes.

My suggested maximum Annual Average Value (AAV) is based on my belief that Karlsson, at worst, is a second-line forward. $6.5 million per is in line for a well-rounded 25-year-old second-liner coming off a bridge deal.

While Karlsson isn't likely to repeat his 40-goal outburst, he also isn't likely to fall below the 20-goal threshold. Since 1994-95, there have been 155 40-goal or better seasons. Only three times has this 40-goal man dropped below a 20-goal pace in the following year: Pat LaFontaine in 1996-97 (played only 13 games because of injury), Pat Verbeek in 1996-97 (scored 31 goals in the following season), and Jason Blake in 2007-08 (diagnosed with leukemia during training camp, scored 25 goals in the following season).

Also not likely to be repeated is Karlsson's sky-high 23.4 shooting %. But again, a complete implosion isn't likely either. Since 1994-95, there have been 55 20.0+ shooting % seasons (on 100+ shots). Only five times has this 20.0+ shooter dropped below 10.0 in the following year: Alex Selivanov in 2000-01, Doug Gilmour in 2000-01 (he was 37), Mario Lemieux in 2001-02 (he was 36), Alexander Mogilny in 2003-04 (he was 34), and Jordan Staal in 2007-08. Based on the number of shots that Karlsson fired on target last season -- 184 -- 10.0+ gets him in the 20-goal range.

Point is, once you smash the 40-goal and 20.0+ shooting % barriers, chances are, you're a legit scorer. And considering Karlsson's age, he's a solid candidate to repeat 20+ goals over the life of a multi-year extension. 20+ goals, combined with his indisputable defensive acumen, is no worse than an excellent second-liner.

Some AAV comps last year to Karlsson's upcoming $5.25 million and my suggested $6.5 million -- also, forwards who walked Karlsson's track of entry-level, bridge, then third contract -- were Tomas Tatar ($5.3 million), Ondrej Palat (5.3), Mika Zibanejad (5.35), Jaden Schwartz (5.35), Mikael Granlund (5.75), Matt Duchene (6.0), and Derek Stepan (6.5).

Karlsson fits comfortably with these caliber of forwards, assuming 20+ goals and reliable two-way play.

But back to opportunity -- or in this case, opportunity lost.

If a second-line performance is the low-end of my expectations for Karlsson going forward, what's the high-end? Well, we saw that in action last year, we know he can do it. That's why, if you believe Karlsson is at least a second-line forward, pay him a commensurate amount, but leave the window open for him to soar past expectations once again.

In my mind, that's a "safe-ish" deal, but with upside for Vegas, unlike this one-year accord. This "show me" deal has no upside for the Golden Knights -- Karlsson slumps, that's bad for the team's chances to compete; Karlsson scores 30+, that's bad for their salary structure.

Anyway, what's done is done. Would you have given Karlsson a long-term contract and for how much?

***

Stats as of 6/15/18, courtesy of Corsica, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, and Sporting Charts.

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