The Kolesar contract works for everyone involved

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

With days to spare before a scheduled arbitration hearing, Keegan Kolesar has agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $1.4 million a year. It’s a length and a price that’s perfect for everyone involved, including capped Golden Knights.

To understand why, it starts with putting aside any preconceptions one may have about Kolesar’s game, chief among them being his inability to score. There’s no denying the fact that Kolesar could have doubled his goalscoring tally last season had he been more clinical around goal. But the fact remains, even still, he scored seven goals and posted 17 assists in 77 games, and did so while shooting well below the league average at 7.4%.

If he can improve his shooting a bit, just around 10%, we score his goals using both hands and some toes. But even if he can’t, five to seven goals for a player in the role of Kolesar is perfectly acceptable.

That’s because there’s more to Kolesar’s game than putting the puck in the back of the net. He led the team in hits last season, hitting 246, nearly 100 more than any other Golden Knights. He is one of the best forward checkers on the team while being responsible defensively. He has recorded the 6th most penalty minutes among forwards, and with the departure of Mattias Janmark that number could increase. And he even completed the power play, scoring a goal in just 35:42 of power play time.

Also, despite my personal feelings for the enforcer role, Kolesar fought nine times last season, making up literally half of the team’s total number. If you have to have a guy like that on the roster, which the Golden Knights always seem to be committed to, he might as well be able to score a few goals, record 20+ assists and play in every situation.

Combine it all, and there’s no reason Kolesar should be worth less than $1.5 million. (Don’t believe me? Look up Zach Aston-Reese and/or Garnet Hathaway.) However, with the Golden Knights’ situation, they need to max out every dollar they can, which is why $1.4 million is a good figure for Vegas in 2022-23. Extending the extra years to avoid arbitration likely kept Kolesar’s contract from approaching $2 million in a year, VGK can barely afford to present a legal background.

It also prepares Vegas for the future. If Kolesar can take the slightest step forward in the finishing department, he has the ability to be a player around $3 million. Paying him just $1.5 for each of the next three years offers a rare chance for a player to significantly outperform his contract, something the Golden Knights desperately need. Even if things don’t go well, $1.5 million is easy to move or bury in the AHL.

On the other hand, for Kolesar, he is well settled not just for now but for three years. For a player who had only logged 45 games in the first six years after being drafted, he parlayed his first true full NHL season into a guaranteed $4.5 million.

If he had gone to arbitration, he probably would have gotten a pinch more, but the term would only have been for a year. That would have forced him into another season of proof which could have easily resulted in a mid-season trade or even not getting a qualifying offer next season. Instead, he now has three seasons to build on his game and position himself for his next contract, when he’s a 28-year-old UFA in a year where the cap could jump 10-15%.

Keegan Kolesar is not the perfect hockey player. Heck, he’s not even the perfect fourth line, but he’s certainly above replacement level with enough untapped offensive upside and physical intangibles to be worth way more than the league minimum.

The Golden Knights have now locked him in for three seasons in which, at worst, he’s under $300,000 off the cap while he’s buried in the AHL. At best, he fills the role of enforcer while scoring double-figure goals and killing penalties along the way.

Low risk, high reward. A bet you take every time. Especially in Vegas.

Posted In NHL

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