George McPhee’s moves during the expansion draft, free agency and the trade deadline helped build the Golden Knights into a Stanley Cup contender in their inaugural season.
His work is expected to be honored with the General Manager of the Year Award during Wednesday’s NHL Awards Show at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
But what will McPhee do for an encore?
The free agency period is on the horizon, and the Knights’ GM faces numerous decisions that could shape the future of the franchise.
“We’ve all learned lessons over the years,” McPhee said at his season-ending news conference. “You have to be smart about what you do and the contracts you’re handing out or it hurts your team, it gets in the way.
“There was a time when there was no salary cap and you could do whatever you wanted. You can’t do that anymore.”
The most intricate decision surrounds center William Karlsson, who is a restricted free agent and coming off a 43-goal season.
Karlsson made $1 million last season and is due for a significant raise, but McPhee must decide how much the 25-year-old is worth.
Prior to his breakout season with the Knights, Karlsson had 18 goals in 183 career NHL games. His shooting percentage of 23.5 last season is historically high and almost certain to regress going forward.
But 40-goal scorers are rare in the NHL and typically command a hefty average annual salary.
McPhee can bank on Karlsson’s offensive production being sustainable and offer him to a long-term contract this summer. Something similar to the six-year, $30 million deal that Karlsson’s linemate Jonathan Marchessault received.
Karlsson, who is arbitration eligible, also could agree to a shorter “bridge deal.” If he continues to produce offensively, he could then land an even larger payday as a free agent.
The deadline for clubs to tender qualifying offers to restricted free agents is 5 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.
Clubs can contact restricted free agents who received qualifying offers to discuss an offer sheet beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on June 26.
The last time a player was signed to an offer sheet was 2013 when Calgary inked Ryan O’Reilly to a two-year, $10 million deal. The Avalanche matched it and later traded O’Reilly to Buffalo.
If Karlsson is signed to an offer sheet, the Knights would have seven days to match.
Forwards James Neal and David Perron each are unrestricted free agents and can start negotiating with teams beginning at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. The first day they can sign a contract is July 1.
The 30-year-old Neal was looking for a long-term (seven years) contract with an annual average value of $6.5 million to $7 million, according to Sportsnet.ca.
Perron had a career-high 66 points, and at 30 years old, this is his final opportunity for a long-term contract.
The Knights have more than $26 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, and could delve into free agency themselves if they opt not to re-sign Neal and/or Perron.
The market includes high-priced New York Islanders center John Tavares, who will command a seven- or eight-year deal with an average annual salary well over $10 million.
Capitals defenseman John Carlson, a former McPhee draft pick, is expected to earn a salary of at least $8 million per year with his next deal. Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk also will land a massive deal after pumping in 36 goals last season.
McPhee also could look to land Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson after pursuing him at the trade deadline in February.
The two-time Norris Trophy winner is expected to be on the trading block if he doesn’t sign an extension this summer. Erik Karlsson and his wife recently filed an order of protection against the longtime girlfriend of Senators teammate Mike Hoffman, and that could affect the asking price.
One other free agent to watch is Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk, a two-time 50 goal scorer. The 35-year-old met with multiple teams (the Knights reportedly are not one of them) as he looks to return to the NHL.