With a few days left before a scheduled arbitration hearing, Keegan Kolesar has agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $1.4 million annually. It’s a length and price that perfectly suits everyone involved, including the Golden Knights strapped to a hat.
To understand why, it starts with brushing aside any preconceived notions one might have about Colsar, chief among them not being able to score. There is no denying the fact that Kolesar could have doubled his goals last season had he been more efficient around goal. But the fact remains, even so, that he scored seven goals and provided 17 assists in 77 games, and he did so while shooting well below the league average of 7.4%.
If he can improve his shot even just a little bit, to about 10%, we count his goals with both hands and a few fingers. But even if he can’t, five to seven goals for a player in the role of Colsar are quite acceptable.
This is because Kolesar has more than just putting a puck in the back of the net. He led the team in hits last season, knocking out 246, nearly 100 more than all other Golden Knights. He is one of the best watchers on the team while also taking on the defensive responsibility. He has scored the sixth most penalty kicks among strikers, and with Matthias Janmark left that number could go up. He even got into the power game, scoring in just 35:42 from his man advantage time.
In addition, despite my personal feelings for the role of the enforcer, Kolesar fought nine times last season, which is literally half the total number of the team. If you had to have a guy like this on the roster, which the Golden Knights seem to still be committed to, he might as well be able to score some goals, chip in more than 20 passes, and play in all positions.
Put it all together, and there’s no reason why Kolesar should be worth less than $1.5 million. (Don’t believe me? Look for Zach Aston-Reese and/or Garnet Hathaway.) Still, with the Golden Knights in place, they need to maximize every dollar they can make, which is why $1.4 million is a good number for Vegas in 2022- 23. Throwing in the extra years to avoid arbitration will likely prevent Kolesar’s contract from paying close to $2 million in one year – VGK can barely afford a legal pool.
It also sets Vegas well for the future. If Kolesar can take even the smallest step forward in the finishing department, he has the potential to be a $3 million player. Paying him just $1.5 for each of the next three years provides a rare opportunity for a player to dramatically outperform his contract, something the Golden Knights desperately need. Even if things don’t go well, it’s easy to move $1.5 million or bury it in the AHL.
On the other hand, for Kolesar, he is well set up not only now but three years down the road. For a player who scored just 45 games in the first six years after being drafted, he tapped his first real full season in the NHL to a guaranteed $4.5 million.
Had he gone to arbitration, he would probably have tweaked more, but the term would have been only one year. It would have forced him into another proof season that could easily have resulted in a mid-season deal or even no qualifying bid next season. Instead, he now has three seasons to build on his game and put himself on his next contract, when he turns 28 in the UFA in a year where he can jump the cap by 10-15%.
Keegan Kolisar is not the perfect hockey player. Heck, it’s not even the perfect fourth streak, but it’s definitely above replacement level with enough untapped offensive upside and intangibles that it’s worth a lot more than the league minimum.
The Golden Knights have now locked him up for three seasons as he cost at worst less than $300,000 for cover while he was buried in the AHL. At his best, he’s the enforcer while scoring double-digit goals and killing penalties along the way.
Low risk, high reward. A bet you take every time. Especially in Vegas.