The Vegas Golden Knights upended every facet of the status quo in their first NHL campaign. Now it’s time to follow it up.
They had a little bit of everything in their first go-round — a depth player becoming a 40-goal titan, an aging star in net posting the best season of his career, and all manner of other castoffs collectively rising to piece together a season so absurd we may never see one similar. But with the Knights’ Cinderella story offering up a twist in its final pages by bowing out of the post-season via four straight losses to the newly crowned Washington Capitals, Vegas’ eyes are now turned to the future.
So, what’s next?
If the most difficult task general manager George McPhee had to take on was building a contender in year one, a close second would be following up whatever it is we just saw with a similarly thrilling year No. 2.
They have the tools needed to build an equally intriguing second season, with a hefty amount of cap space and, now, some undeniable appeal. With that in mind, here’s a look at what McPhee needs to accomplish before his club’s sophomore year:
SOLVE THE WILLIAM KARLSSON CONUNDRUM
The most intriguing puzzle McPhee has to solve is what to do with William Karlsson. The 25-year-old’s rapid ascent is well-documented — after posting 18 goals through his 183 pre-Vegas appearances, he more than doubled that total in Knights colours, finishing with 43 goals and 78 points overall. And he did it for the bargain-bin sum of $1 million in a full 82-game season.
Vegas’ cap space (roughly $26.5 million, per CapFriendly) and the fact that Karlsson is an RFA rather than a UFA make this negotiation easier. But it’s still a tricky one. Does Vegas treat Karlsson like a bona fide 40-goal-scorer after the breakout year, and pay him as such?
Perhaps the more important question is, how much does McPhee view Karlsson’s previous performance as rooted in limited opportunity vs. limited performance?
If he’s taken as what he was in 2017-18, he might be pushing towards something like Vladimir Tarasenko‘s $7.5 million cap hit.
However, McPhee inked Karlsson’s linemate Jonathan Marchessault to a six-year deal in January paying him $5 million per year, on par with the other third of the team’s top line, Reilly Smith. It’s fair to assume they’d like Karlsson’s deal to line up in the range of those two. The question is whether they can make that happen or whether Karlsson, who’s on the cusp of his first significant payday, looks to angle towards a better deal.
THE VETERAN WINGERS: DECIDE WHO’S STAYING AND WHO’S GOING
While the risk of losing Karlsson is mitigated by his RFA status, veteran wingers James Neal and David Perron are far less of a sure thing. Both become UFAs on July 1, granting them the chance …read more