William Karlsson has a four-game goal streak, 21 points this season and is just one assist and one goal short of the team leaders.
What the Golden Knights center doesn’t have is a long-term contract.
Karlsson is playing under a one-year contract signed to avoid arbitration last summer. He is a restricted free agent again after the season and, barring a trade, will either sign a new deal or go through arbitration before becoming an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season.
Karlsson may be playing his best hockey of the season right now. But it hasn’t made him think about his next contract.
“I want to show that I can be a good player and that I deserve that, but I try not to think. I mean, why? It’s just going to weigh you down,” Karlsson said. “You just gotta go about each day and try to have fun when you come in to the rink and to not put too much pressure on yourself.”
That Karlsson doesn’t have a deal may be a little odd on its face.
Nine Golden Knights are locked up through at least the 2021-22 season, and all but Reilly Smith signed an extension with Vegas (Smith’s contract carried over from Florida). Shea Theodore, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller have all signed extensions since the end of last season.
Theodore’s negotiations generated the most drama, as the 23-year-old defenseman held out until late September, missing five preseason games.
“I don’t think that’s something we really talk about,” Theodore said. “Obviously, it’s in the back of his mind that I’m sure he wants a long-term deal. He’s a big part of this group, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with that.”
Karlsson’s latest hot streak is not the result of any demonstrable changes. He said he hasn’t been pressing more or coming into the game with any renewed focus to score.
He’s shooting more — 3 shots per game over the last four games as opposed to 1.91 in the previous 24 games — but he also had a stretch of five games in October and November where he took 14 shots without a goal.
“It’s just hockey,” Karlsson said. But it’s a weight off his shoulders to get back to putting pucks in the net, he said.
“You want to score in every game,” he said. “To score four games in a row, it’s nice. It makes your confidence roll a little, so hopefully it can continue like this.”
Karlsson scored a career-best 43 goals last season, which was tops on the team and third-best in the NHL. This season, the Golden Knights are 6-3 when he scores a goal and 8-10-1 when he doesn’t.
Vegas needs the William Karlsson of last season, and he seems to be coming around.
“He works hard every game and plays the same way,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Sometimes you go on streaks and they go in the net, and sometimes they don’t. I think he’s played well all year for the most part.”