After stalled negotiations and an unwillingness by both parties to meet in the middle on a new contract, the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally realizing, it's time to shop William Nylander. NHL insider Elliotte Friedman recently reported that GM Kyle Dubas has informed opposing NHL teams to start putting formal offers together. The messaging sent around the NHL on Saturday was, the Leafs are ready to talk trade.
A skilled center in the NHL, Nylander is an offensively-gifted forward for the Maple Leafs who has played parts of three seasons, scoring 61 points in each of the past two campaigns. One of the young core of strong forwards in Toronto, he was viewed as a core piece of the Maple Leafs future and a big piece of the puzzle when it came time for the team to finally compete for the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, this past offseason both Nylander and Leafs management have been unable to come to terms on a contract extension.
The team has continually said they're interested in keeping Nylander and reportedly, the last move they want to make is trading him, however, if December 1, 2018, comes and goes, Nylander can't play in the NHL, the Maple Leafs will have to roll without him for the season and that's a lose/lose situation for everyone.
This story has been one of the most dramatic of the offseason and front-page news when it comes to background sagas of the regular season. How and why did this situation get to where it is now? Why is Toronto ready to trade Nylander knowing they'd rather keep him?
False Sense of What Nylander Is Worth
There is no doubt, Nylander is a good young player. He's proven he can produce offense and it's possible his ceiling is extremely high if he plays alongside talents like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner. His 61 points per season are nothing to scoff at.
That said, Nylander believes he's worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million per season, he's unwilling to budge on that asking price and in today's NHL, 61 points doesn't get you $8 million per season on a long-term deal.
Signing up a player to long-term contract means paying for future salary increases and in the case of Nylander, he's confident he'll be a 70-80 point player down the road. As the years' pass and the NHL salary cap goes up, 70 points could be worth $8 million, thus Nylander believes he's best to plan for that kind of inflation now. It's flawed thinking in a way, but also slightly understandable considering NHL contracts have been negotiated by agents this way for many seasons.
Nylander is also looking around the Maple Leafs locker room and realizing that as the first major contract up for an extension, he stands to be the first, and perhaps the only player to take a deal on his contract. If he helps the team now, there's no telling that other players will do the same when asked or that the Maple Leafs will even ask. There's also no knowing if the team will stay loyal and not trade him down the road after Nylander discounted his services to stay with a potential winner.
Toronto's Cap Situation
While Nylander has a perception he's worth one thing, the Maple Leafs know he's worth another. Even more pressing, the team can't afford to pay him what he believes he's worth, even if they wanted to.
One of the issues for the organization is that the Maple Leafs are loaded with gifted young forwards, most of whom are due for contracts in the next two or three years. The only way Toronto can keep that core group together is by making sure they sign every player for what they're worth and not a penny more. In fact, if Toronto can, they'd be well served to get these players in under market value. This problem was expanded when the team signed unrestricted free agent John Tavares to a long-term $11 million per season deal this past summer.
The Maple Leafs believe Nylander is worth $6-$6.5 million at best. That's a large gap between what the player is asking and what the team is expecting to pay.
Everyone is Running Out Of Time
Toronto is coming from one place and Nylander another but at the end of the day, there's not enough time for the two sides to let this simmer until one side caves. If the date of December 1 passes, the rules of the NHL state that a restricted free agent will have to forfeit the rest of the season. Meaning, if Nylander doesn't sign with a team before then, he will have to play in another league, the Maple Leafs can't use or move him and everyone has to wait until next offseason to start this process again.
And, while the Maple Leafs have a strong core of forwards, their defense is lacking. Nylander can be used to pick up a solid blueliner in trade and the window for the Leafs to be a Stanley Cup contender is only so big. If Toronto is going to move Nylander, now is the time to do so.
Best to Just Move On
While all of this is going on, the media in Toronto and the fanbase is having a field day with Nylander sitting out. He's being labeled as greedy, selfish and social media is flooded with comments the team should just trade him. As time rolls along, that sentiment is only getting louder and there may come a point where the fanbase turns on him regardless of what he ends up signing for.
Almost midway through November, the team has less than three weeks to make something happen and that includes finding a team to take Nylander's potential contract demands on, getting the pieces back in trade that they need and dealing with the rest of the season.