William Karlsson’s potential arbitration case is NHL’s most intriguing

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There were 44 restricted free agents to officially file for salary arbitration this past week, a pretty significant spike from the number we saw just one year ago. If history is any guide most of those contract situations will be resolved before arbitration is actually needed because neither the team nor the player wants to go through that unpleasantness.

If there is a situation that seems destined to reach that point this summer it just might be William Karlsson and the Vegas Golden Knights, because it might be one of the most difficult and complex contract situations out of the entire RFA group.

Karlsson’s 2017-18 season was simply outstanding.

He finished as the NHL’s third-leading goal-scorer (43).

He posted outstanding possession numbers as part of Vegas’ top line between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.

He absolutely shattered all of his previous career numbers — not just from any individual season, but his *entire* career numbers. A fact that Vegas Twitter account was happy to point out on Friday.

This situation — which absolutely nobody saw coming — presents a lot of problems for the team, and Karlsson, when it comes working out a new contract for this season.

When you look at Karlsson’s actual performance in 2017-18 it absolutely justifies a significant pay raise over the $1 million salary he made the past two years. But how much and how long should Vegas be reasonably comfortable committing to at this point?

The problem for Karlsson is that Vegas has every reason to be skeptical that this type of performance is repeatable. His 23.4 percent shooting percentage was not only the best mark in the NHL, it was the third-highest mark of any NHL player over the past 20 years, finishing behind only Mike Ribeiro’s 25.2 mark in 2007-08 and Curtis Glencross’ 23.6 in 2011-12. That number is almost certain to regress this upcoming season, which would mean an obvious decrease in goals.

At this point the Golden Knights still do not know what they have in Karlsson, and signing him to any sort of a long-term contract extension is probably just too much of a risk. That means a short-term bridge deal is almost certainly in the cards. And that is where things could get a little ugly.

Given that Karlsson only has one year of this level of production to his credit the Golden Knights are going to have a pretty compelling case in arbitration, meaning there probably is not much reason for them to come forward with any sort of a sizable contract offer — even on a short-term bridge deal. That likely means that even after scoring 43 goals this past season and helping lead a first-year expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final he probably still will not fully cash in on that production.

One or way or another he is probably going to have to prove it again in 2018-19 before that can happen. If it ever happens. Unfortunately for Karlsson it seems unlikely that another 23 percent shooting percentage and 40-goal season is on the horizon … unless he finds a way to completely shock the hockey world for a second year in a row.

Related: Forty-four players file for salary arbitration

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.