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December 10, 2018

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Golden Knights’ Karlsson on new contract: ‘I like to gamble on myself’

Golden Knights Defeat Los Angeles Kings

John Locher/AP

Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson, center, celebrates after scoring against against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Las Vegas.

Golden Knights center William Karlsson will be playing in Las Vegas at least one more season.

Karlsson agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.25 million today just prior to a salary arbitration hearing. The contract makes Karlsson the fourth-highest paid player on the Golden Knights for the upcoming season.

The 25-year-old led Vegas with 43 goals (third best in the NHL) and 78 total points. He paced the league with an astounding plus-49 plus/minus rating and walked away with the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship.

The sides were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal and went down to the wire, signing the one-year contract just before entering the arbitration hearing. And while Karlsson prefered a long-term deal to stay in Las Vegas, he is happy with the one year “prove it” deal he signed this morning.

“In an ideal world I would've liked a long term deal, but I like to gamble on myself and that's what this is," Karlsson said. "Now I can go prove myself."

Karlsson will remain a restricted free agent next offseason, where the Golden Knights will be in a similar situation. The key difference will be having more time to evaluate Karlsson’s value.

“This gives us another season with the player under contract, to see how he performs and then put a value on him,” general manager George McPhee said. “Whatever a player’s value is in the market, we will pay it, but there are cases like this one where both sides need more time to evaluate.”

Prior to last season Karlsson scored only 16 goals in three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a fourth-line player. His $1 million salary for last year was on par with his play in the NHL to that point, but his explosion into one of the NHL’s best goal scorers made this contract negotiation especially tough.

“It was unique,” McPhee said. “There aren’t many players that have years like this. We want to be a little bit careful at this point. To (Karlsson’s) credit he believes this is who he is and he is going to continue his great play. We hope he’s right and we have a consistent 40 goal scorer on our team.”

Karlsson finished sixth in voting or the Selke Trophy, which is given to the best defensive forward in the league, and was one of the best penalty killing forwards on the team. He believes he and his linemates Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith can maintain their defensive play, and elevate even more offensively.

“We want to score more goals,” Karlsson said. “We play a 200-foot game and coach trusts us in all situations. If we can keep up with that, and contribute more offensively it will be good.”

The Golden Knights’ top line was the most productive in all of hockey, and the three combined to score 92 goals. If they can top that Karlsson will be in line for an even bigger pay raise next summer.

“We expect him to come in and be a good player for us again because he is a good player,” McPhee said. “We are looking forward to watching him perform and watching that line perform. They were one of the best if not the very best in the league. We believe they can be good together for a long, long time.”

That sounds like McPhee envisions another deal down the line, but the sides can’t renegotiate until Jan. 1.

“He’s paid very well and similar to his linemates,” McPhee said. “We talked about being happy that we have this deal done and both sides are happy. It gives us time to get a longer term deal done.”

The only remaining restricted free agent for the Golden Knights is 22-year-old defenseman Shea Theodore. He is not arbitration eligible, but McPhee said he hopes to sign him to a deal before the season starts.

“We will continue discussions there and see if something can be done that makes sense for both parties,” he said. “We’ve got time but it would be nice if we could reach an agreement there and know what to expect.”

McPhee also hinted at a possible move to upgrade his forward group but wouldn’t specify more than, “We’re happy where we are. If there’s an opportunity to upgrade at the forward position at any time over the next year we will.”

Jesse Granger can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at twitter.com/JesseGranger_.

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