September 4, 2018

Nylander: Still No Deal Reached

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had an interesting off season; John Tavares being the complete center of that attention. However, one of the things many the Leafs faithful thought would have happened long ago is the re-signing of current RFA and young stud, William Nylander.

On June 27, 2014 I was at Real Sports bar in Toronto, as I was invited to attend the Maple Leafs draft party. There was not long of a wait as the Maple Leafs, after another poor season, ended up with a top 10 pick and, with the 8th overall selection, chose William Nylander. At first, I was skeptical – I didn’t know much about Nylander, as he was the #2 ranked European skater in the draft. The only thing I did know about him was that his father, Michael Nylander, played over 900 NHL games, William was supposed to be even better than his dad was.

What we didn’t know at the time was that Nylander was the first step to the ultimate rebuild that ended up starting less than two seasons later.

It seems as if this contract situation is starting to become a standoff between Nylander and the Maple Leafs. How concerned are the Maple Leafs? Will this become a distraction for the team? Will this impact Nylander’s individual stats this season? There are so many questions that need to be asked and only the completion of a deal would even begin to answer many of them.

What we are told, right now, is that there is no dispute between the team and Nylander’s camp. It seems that the Maple Leafs are willing to offer Nylander a bridge type of deal (usually 1-3 years) and then revisit the contract at a later date. However, William has been said to want to sign a long term deal with the club and not have to worry about this contract situation again, for a long time. Some reported he wants 8 years but “long-term” could be considered over 5 years, in my opinion. In terms of the dollar amount, based on similar contracts signed recently (Larkin, Pasternak), I can only predict that Nylander will make between $6-6.5 million per season, any more than that is pure insanity.

I know he is a great talent, but investing that much money into a player when you know you have other deals coming up to sign (Matthews, Marner) would be a mistake.

BUT,  I believe Dubas has this under control. If Dubas learned anything from Lou Lamoriello, in his time with the Leafs, it was that nothing leaks outside of the organization and thus far I think he has done a great job and in a market like Toronto.

William Nylander has had his ups and downs with the Maple Leafs in his short career, but so far he has been pretty consistent in the past two campaigns. In the last two years William has put up two almost identical seasons, with 61 points in each and hitting the 20 goal plateau in both campaigns. It does help that he plays with Auston Matthews, but the chemistry those two have is outstanding.

As a first line option, he will continue to impress and put up points for this team no matter if he is playing with Matthews or newcomer, Tavares. I have no doubt that he can and will perform at a consistent rate in a high pressure market.

William Nylander has faced his fair share of criticism, especially when he was in his first full season with the club and spent a lot of time on the 4th line. He has a reputation of being soft or being afraid to go into the corners. Aside from the reputation, he still has point totals that would make those assertions seem inaccurate. Sure, he does not have the frame of Auston Matthews, but he still is an incredible athlete and has been consistent in putting up points, especially at 5 on 5. He had 45 even strength points last season and could have had even more with additional power play minutes (he was technically on the second unit all year) and having Matthews in the lineup.


Image: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

I think sooner or later this deal gets done, but I do get concerned about the timing of the contract itself, as it can lead to serious distractions for the team and the player.

Will Nylander hold out for a deal?

William holds the cards in his hands right now. He has the leverage to hold out for a deal and get what he wants. I also don’t think any sort of offer sheet will be coming, but that would be a very interesting situation, as I think the Maple Leafs, barring a ridiculous offer, would match it in a heartbeat.

Now, is the talent worth the big price tag that comes along with it? With the amount of talent in the NHL these days, it is very hard to pick up a top 6 forward without either over paying in free agency or trade for it. In this case, the Maple Leafs need to keep William Nylander. Even if the price ends up being $6.5mil per season, by the time it is said and done you would have to significantly pay more than that if you wanted to sign a similar player during free agency. So why push it? If you want to win a championship and end the drought you need to keep the kids together.

Come to think about it, why would you even consider trading such a valuable player and talent? Just to get a top two defenseman? I don’t think so, it is not that easy and top level defensemen are not available, but for some reason many people believe it is a good idea to trade him. Let me remind you that the Oilers traded MVP Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and with all respect to Larsson he is not a top 2 defenseman. So the Maple Leafs have to tread carefully with this, especially if they do decide to ultimately deal the smooth skating swede.

They better be certain that they are getting a proper and fair return and are not just moving him because they can’t agree on the term of the contract.
Personally, I believe that this contract “dispute” will ultimately be settled come training camp. It does not seem as if there is any sort of bad blood between the two parties. Does that mean there are no issues between them? Absolutely not, or else the deal would have been signed weeks ago. The real issue, here, is of course being in Toronto the news is blown up to be so much bigger than it needs to be.

Look at how much we talk about it now – there are very few places in the NHL that would be discussing a contract extension for a player a team still holds control over during the dog days of summer.

If it is already somewhat of a distraction now, imagine in a few weeks when camp opens. It will overshadow a lot of the positives the team is looking forward to this season. This is a big year for the Maple Leafs as the kids are not kids anymore. They will be starting their 3rd full season together and this year the team needs to make a big push forward to make some noise in the playoffs; the championship window is officially open. With the signing of Tavares,  that window is now all the way open and now they need to accomplish the ultimate goal. I doubt they would want something as silly as this contract situation to interfere with any of the progress management and the players have made thus far.

William Nylander is a bigger part of this team than some realize. He has had a huge impact on the way Auston Matthews has played in his young career, as well as helping Toronto have overall one of the most potent power plays and offenses in the league.

On and off the ice, he is and should continue to be part of the Maple Leafs plans going forward into the future.

Looking at the teams that have been winning the Stanley Cup lately, many, if not all teams had some sort of three or four headed monster that helped them win a championship. In Pittsburgh you had Crosby, Malkin and Kessel, In Chicago you had Toews, Kane, and Saad/Hossa, and this past season you had Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Oshie. Once you match that with stellar Vezina like goaltending, high quality special teams and decent team defense, you are in line to compete for a Stanley Cup.

For the record none of that is just given to you, nor does it come cheap. The Toronto Maple Leafs now have Matthews, Tavares, Marner, and Nylander. They need Nylander to keep that foursome as potent as any in the league. With Nylander in the plans, the Maple Leafs are very close to the team they need to end the 51 (will be 52 come 2019) year Stanley Cup drought.

If we are to believe Kyle Dubas and his plan then the Maple Leafs are in good shape. He already signed Tavares, which was a shock to much of the hockey word. Now will he be able to keep the rest of the kids together? Kyle told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek “we can, and we will”. I do believe him and looking at the cap situation he isn’t wrong.

Once the Leafs place Nathan Horton’s contract on LTIR (I know I can’t believe it’s still there either) they will have just under $19 million in cap space. Even if they give Nylander $6.5 million, they will still have $12.5 million in space for the rest of the season. Come next season Matthews, Marner, Kapanen and Johnsson will need new deals and Gardiner and Hainsey will become UFAs. That will give the Maple Leafs about $24 million in cap space to divide among the several players. Matthews will end up with $10-11 million, Marner will pick up around $6-7 million and Kapanen/Johnsson should net around $3 million each. That leaves little left over if the Leafs do decide to re-sign Gardiner, but they can always make a few moves to make some space.

The Maple Leafs will be fine with both the contract and money situations. They will be able to re-sign Nylander to a new deal this offseason and have plenty of time and money to figure out the rest next season.

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