The very last arbitration hearing on the books, scheduled for Saturday, is with William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights. Almost an impossible to predict contract given his absolute offensive explosion last season, Karlsson and the Golden Knights have exchanged figures today. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports that Karlsson filed for a $6.5MM salary, while the team has offered $3.5MM.
Karlsson, 25, was originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, but was eventually sent to Columbus as part of a package for James Wisniewski. Despite his obvious potential as a defensive center, there wasn’t a ton of opportunity for him to show what he could do on the offensive side of the puck for the Blue Jackets. In 165 games for Columbus he scored just 47 points. Well, after heading to the Golden Knights in the expansion draft he nearly matched that total in just goals, scoring 43 on the season and registering 78 points. He would take home a Lady Byng trophy, and finish in the top-10 for both the Hart and Selke trophies, while also helping the team to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
It’s that lack of offensive history that could hurt Karlsson in arbitration, as the team will argue it was an outlier and he poses a real risk of regression next season. Karlsson did shoot an incredibly high 23.4% in 2017-18, a number that is almost certain to go down in the future. If that number dropped to something like 15%, which is still well above league average, Karlsson would have scored fewer than 30 goals had his shot creation stayed the same. Obviously no one knows what will happen down the line for him, but after earning just $1MM last season it’s tough to justify a $5.5MM raise.
There is obviously also the chance that the two sides will come together on a long-term deal that could buy out some of Karlsson’s unrestricted free agent years, but as of yesterday nothing was imminent. Since he is two years away from UFA status, you can bet the Golden Knights will choose for a one-year arbitration award should it get that far. That way he’ll still be a restricted free agent next summer, giving the team more time to negotiate with him.