There is an alternate reality that exists, one in which William Karlsson would not have been with the Golden Knights next season.
When confronted with that possibility this summer, the popular center did whatever was necessary to remain with the club.
“I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else,” Karlsson said Tuesday.
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, the Knights were prepared to trade Karlsson this summer had he not agreed to a long-term extension, and some members of his camp were pushing for him to force a move.
But Karlsson’s top priority was not money, and he was more than happy to sign an eight-year, $47.2 million deal if it meant staying where he blossomed as a player under coach Gerard Gallant and met his girlfriend.
“The decision I made to negotiate this year and maybe not get as much as on an open market, it was an easy decision,” Karlsson said during a news conference at City National Arena. “Everything around here attracts a lot.”
Karlsson was set to become a restricted free agent July 1 and was arbitration eligible. He likely would have received a salary similar to the $5.25 million he made this past season.
But the Knights had no interest in allowing him to play on a one-year contract, then leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
Karlsson also would have been a candidate to receive an offer sheet in excess of $7 million per season from another team next week based on the Knights’ salary cap difficulties.
“In thinking about this, we’d rather have him playing here than anywhere else,” incoming president of hockey operations George McPhee said. “You’d like to have him on your team and not play against him.”
Karlsson avoided arbitration at the 11th hour last summer rather than settling for an extension with a lower annual average salary. By not signing following his 43-goal campaign, he was able to squeeze an extra year out of the Knights.
The deal, which includes a 10-team no-trade clause, appears to be less than market value for a 26-year-old, two-way center. Philadelphia signed center Kevin Hayes to a seven-year contract with a $7.14 million average annual salary coming off a career-high 55 points.
But with Nevada having no state income tax, Karlsson’s net salary is almost identical to Hayes’, according to the website CapFriendly.
“Realistically, our situation in Vegas is really attractive to a lot of players,” McPhee said. “They really like playing here, and the tax implications and the cost of living here matters. The players are really savvy. They understand what they would have to make somewhere else to net what they take home here.
“I think his contract in most markets, you’d have to be at about $7.5 (million) to net what you have here. That’s the average NHL market. In California, I think it’s $9.5 (million).”
Karlsson was a second-round pick by Anaheim in 2011 and traded to Columbus in 2015, where he toiled as a bottom-six forward before being exposed in the expansion draft.
After his breakout debut season with the Knights, Karlsson was second with 24 goals and 56 points last season and led the team’s forwards in average ice time.
“I would lie if I didn’t say I was satisfied, for sure,” Karlsson said. “Looking back when I was in Columbus or Anaheim, I don’t think anyone in here, myself included, thought I’d be standing here signing the contract that I did. But I’m just happy I got the chance to show both myself and everyone else what kind of player I can be.”