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NHL Free Agency: Golden Knights have options regarding William Karlsson

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It’s not an ideal situation, but if Wild Bill is gone, there are safety nets.

San Jose Sharks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Six Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As we detailed last week, the Vegas Golden Knights need to do whatever it takes to keep William Karlsson next season and beyond.

Cap wise, it’s not going to be simple unless they have an easy route to unload some contracts within the next few weeks. If we’re ballparking, let’s say the bidding starts at $6 million AAV at the least.

The former 40-goal scorer will be a restricted free agent once again this summer. The Golden Knights hold the cards in how this will proceed. There’s also the likelihood of Vegas letting Karlsson find his worth around the league. A rare option, but possible nevertheless.

Considering Year 2 is over and Karlsson is the only one of 81-71-19 to not have a long-term deal, the Golden Knights must have contingency plans in place should Wild Bill ride off into the sunset elsewhere. Here’s a hunch on some.

Offer sheet

There hasn’t been an offer sheet in the NHL since 2013. Some guy named Ryan O’Reilly signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Calgary Flames, only for the Colorado Avalanche to match. It’s not like the NBA where restricted free agents can garner deals from other teams, only for their host club to easily match within 72 hours.

This offseason might be the one that garners such rarity. Names like Brayden Point, Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner and even Karlsson are likely to receive interest from other clubs. But with RFAs come a price; draft picks, and a good number of them at that.

Let’s say that Karlsson wants the Brinks truck and the Golden Knights let him test. If Karlsson secures a deal that pays more than $6,341,153 AAV, the Golden Knights would receive that team’s first, second and third round picks next year. If it’s a tad less than that, it would be a team’s first and third. It needs to be the team’s original picks, too.

It takes a special player to garner the kind of compensation that would force a team to fork over its draft surplus. There’s a sample size now to gauge Karlsson’s impact, but does it cost the farm?

Teams can’t negotiate with RFAs until June 26, and players can’t sign offer sheets until July 1.

Should Karlsson elect arbitration, which he and Vegas narrowly avoided last summer, he would not be eligible for an offer sheet. It could be a win-win for the Golden Knights. They receive draft picks and stock their draft cupboard that became bare once Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom were told goodbye, or they wait on the return value for Karlsson and either match or come to some sort of middle ground on a new deal.

Another thing to consider: Karlsson and his reps were seeking a deal worth $6.5 million last year, while the Golden Knights presented a counter offer of $3.5 million before meeting in the middle of the $5.25 million. Something screams a wide discrepancy in negotiations again this go-around.

Trade

This was not even a thought until Elliotte Friedman mentioned this in his 31 Thoughts column on May 12. In a quest to get the Golden Knights under the salary cap, they’re going to hit the market. Cody Eakin, Ryan Reaves and Colin Miller are the first thoughts when thinking salary dump.

But Friedman mentioned Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault as potential trade chips this summer. I can’t see Marchessault being moved unless an offer becomes so enticing that a team is willing to pay him $5 million a year until his age-33 season. Karlsson, however, could be interesting.

If a team wanted Karlsson bad enough, a Max Pacioretty-type deal involving a veteran, a prospect and an early-round draft pick could work. If Vegas could swing a deal involving a couple of picks and a decent prospect, that could be enough to sweeten the pot.

There are teams in the Eastern Conference that could use a great top-six center. Buffalo has the space even after signing Jeff Skinner to a long-term deal last week. New Jersey could be another destination with Taylor Hall entering a contract year and with the eventual addition of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko in a couple weeks. The New York Rangers may have the draft capital to swing something, too, should they be interested.

Replacements in the system

Say that we’re under the assumption that Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone is the new top line (it shouldn’t be an assumption because it’s true). Marchessault and Reilly Smith become two-thirds of a solid second line. The Golden Knights are prepared for this.

There’s Erik Haula. Remember him? He’s in a contract year making $2.75 million. He wants a top-six role. It’s a prove-it year for Haula after missing most of last year with that dreaded knee injury. He’s very capable of putting up 29 goals again if given the right pieces to play with. Haula’s not the 200-foot player Karlsson is, but he can be effective with Smith and Marchessault.

Option No. 2 is Cody Glass. The last of the triplets from 2017, eyes will be on Glass to make the leap to the NHL roster next season. Glass, 20, was stellar in AHL Chicago’s run to the Calder Cup Final with 15 points in 22 games. He also had six points in five games with Canada during World Juniors, showing flashes that he’s ready for the next level.

Option No. 3 is trade everyone and sign Matt Duchene, because why the hell not?