William Karlsson, Golden Knights avoid arbitration with 11th-hour deal

William Karlsson (Getty Images)

One of the NHL’s most fascinating contract case studies came to a close Saturday when restricted free agent William Karlsson, fresh off the most unexpected 43-goal season in history, agreed to terms with the Golden Knights, avoiding arbitration at the 11th hour.

The deal is for one year and carries a $5.25 million salary cap hit, Vegas announced.

Karlsson, 25, was the most surprising player on the NHL’s most surprising team in 2017-18, going from six goals to 43 one season to the next. The drastic year-over-year uptick in production was unprecedented for a player so far into his professional career. Karlsson scored just 16 goals in his first 183 before the Golden Knights poached him from the Blue Jackets in the expansion draft, then preceded to finish third behind dynamic goal-scorers Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine last season.

It was up to Vegas, then, to decipher where Karlsson’s true value lies ahead of Saturday’s schedule arbitration hearing.

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, reflected in the dollar amount. Karlsson’s camp reportedly sought a contract worth $6.5 million per season; Vegas countered with $3.5 million. At $5.25 million, Karlsson is still well compensated for his breakout year — he played for a $1 million salary as one of the NHL’s greatest bargains — and now has an opportunity to prove it was more than a flash in the pan, with the possibility for a long-term payout next offseason.

The number comes in slightly above the middle figure likely to be awarded by an arbitrator. And because of the short term, Vegas didn’t need to take the gamble on a wildly unknown asset and run the risk of creating an anvil contract on a payroll that’s slowly beginning to fill up.

Karlsson’s one-year contract means the sides must wait until at least Jan. 1 to begin negotiating a long-term arrangement. Short of that, he would become a RFA again next summer with the option to enter into arbitration once more. For now, the placeholder contract is a best-case solution for both sides.

The rest of the NHL will be watching with a keen eye to see if Karlsson can replicate his 2017-18 success.