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Golden Knights face difficult decisions with free agents

Updated April 27, 2019 - 6:47 pm

One of George McPhee’s strategies starting out as the Golden Knights’ general manager was to use the team’s considerable salary cap space as an asset.

The club took on dead weight in contracts (David Clarkson, Mikhail Grabovski, Clayton Stoner) to acquire desired pieces in return.

Those days are over.

The Knights are pushed against the cap, and McPhee will have several difficult decisions to make this offseason after a first-round playoff exit against the San Jose Sharks.

“Every summer you look at what opportunities there are to make your team better. We’ll do that again,” McPhee said. “A lot of positions are filled. If there is a way to upgrade or improve, we will, but we’re in a pretty good place with this team. When we’re healthy, it’s a pretty darn good team.”

The Knights have a little more than $82 million committed with a projected $83 million cap, and the most pressing issue is center William Karlsson, a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

The sides were unable to work out a long-term deal last summer, and he signed a one-year, $5.25 million contract to avoid arbitration. The difference this offseason is Karlsson can walk as an unrestricted free agent in 2020 if he’s not signed long term.

“We’ll get to work on it shortly and hopefully get it wrapped up,” McPhee said. “He had a real good season. He’s a good player. We like him. We’d like him to sign long term with us.”

In addition, the Knights could be looking for a fourth-line center with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare set to become an unrestricted free agent.

The third line also figures to get a makeover with center Erik Haula back in the mix. Russian Nikita Gusev burned his one-year entry-level deal during the playoffs and becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

On defense, veteran Deryk Engelland is an unrestricted free agent, and the team has several prospects waiting in the pipeline, including restricted free agent Jimmy Schuldt.

“We’ll have meetings with our pro staff shortly and just talk about our team, the future, the entire landscape, what’s out there and make decisions that are the best we can make for the organization,” McPhee said. “We’re in a pretty good place.”

Unrestricted free agents

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare: The 34-year-old center was an alternate captain and valuable penalty killer. He wouldn’t break the bank to re-sign, but the Knights could choose to go in another direction.

Ryan Carpenter: The versatile bottom-six forward made $650,000 and had a career-high 18 points in 68 games. He is a favorite of coach Gerard Gallant, but other teams could be interested in the high-character 28-year-old.

Deryk Engelland: He turned 37 on April 3 and made it clear he wants to continue playing. This could be McPhee’s most difficult decision because the longtime Las Vegas resident holds a unique place in franchise history.

Brandon Pirri: The midseason call-up found a hot stick in December, and he finished with 12 goals in 31 regular-season games. The 28-year-old is looking for an opportunity at the NHL level and is unlikely to return.

Restricted free agents

Nikita Gusev: It’s an interesting case study to see what the Knights pay the baby-faced, 26-year-old winger. If he gets a two-year, $9 million deal similar to Vadim Shipachyov but performs like Artemi Panarin, it will be worth it.

William Karlsson: The 26-year-old posted 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games. Not bad. But it’s not 43 goals, either. A $6.5 million average annual value seems like a good starting point. Would a team swoop in and sign him to an offer sheet?

Tomas Nosek: The bottom-six forward must be extended a qualifying offer of $1 million for the 2019-20 season or he will become an unrestricted free agent. He had career highs in goals (8), assists (9) and points (17).

Jimmy Schuldt: Signed as a free agent in March after a decorated college career at St. Cloud State. He joins a deep pool of prospects that will compete during training camp for an NHL roster spot.

Malcolm Subban: He went 8-10-2 as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup while battling inconsistency. The 25-year-old must be extended a qualifying offer of 110 percent ($715,000) of his base salary or he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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