It was one of the most intriguing question marks of the off-season, a case study in negotiation oddities.
What do you give a player who did in one year more than he had in his three previous, combined? Who, at the age of 25, lifted his stock from fringe forward to elite sniper — in a contract year, of course — and for a team of underrated castaways that enjoyed a similar ascension on the back of this performance?
With all eyes on George McPhee as he navigated this contract quagmire, the Vegas Golden Knights and 43-goal-scorer William Karlsson settled on a one-year, $5.25-million deal earlier this month, avoiding arbitration with a short-term fix.
Now, the question turns to what becomes of Karlsson and his Golden Knights in their follow-up campaign. For his part, the smooth-skating Swede believes he can do it all again.
“It’s me betting on myself a little,” Karlsson said of his one-year contract to NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger. “It would be great with a long term [deal], but we couldn’t agree on that. Both sides wanted it long term but it couldn’t work out.
“I believe I can have another productive year, show that last season was no fluke and earn something long term.”
The 2017-18 season was a wild one for the young centreman, an apt result for the one affectionately known as ‘Wild Bill’ in the stands of T-Mobile Arena.
First left exposed in the 2017 expansion draft — with his selection ensured and paid for in the form of a three-part trade package sent from Columbus to Vegas — Karlsson quickly flourished in his new environment, dominating on a line with former Florida Panthers pair Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith as Vegas pushed all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
When all was said and done, Karlsson’s campaign finished with a 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, just three wins shy of a championship, and just seven goals short of the league’s goal-scoring crown.
Though the rapid rise seems a mystery to those outside the room, Karlsson offered his view of why he and his teammates were able to raise their ceiling so high in their new threads.
“We just had a lot of guys who had chips on their shoulders and were out to prove something. It’s amazing what a bit of confidence can do for you,” Karlsson told Zeisberger. “I’m not sure what happened in Columbus, but when your confidence is down, it affects you.
“All I wanted is a chance to show what I can do. Vegas let me do that. It let a lot of guys do that.”
Vegas faces a tough sophomore season ahead of them in 2018-19, with expectations sure to be significantly raised following the franchise’s quick start. The club has made strides in positioning themselves to remain near the top of the pile, though, bringing in veteran pivot Paul Stastny, locking up starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and remaining in the mix to add another talented Karlsson to the fold.
That said, there’s no question the club’s success — and his own financial future, apparently — depends on Karlsson’s ability to stay true to his word and remain in top form in his second desert go-round.