William Nylander’s contract holdout began innocently enough. He and the Maple Leafs negotiated in good faith, hoping to settle on a price that fit within plans for both player and team before the 2018-19 season began. But as weeks and months passed without a deal, it now appears the 22-year-old’s future in Toronto may now be in jeopardy.
Discussions between the sides were still ongoing leading into the NHL GM meetings Nov. 13, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, a good sign for anyone keeping their fingers crossed Nylander will return to take his rightful place alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for years to come.
If the Maple Leafs can’t sign Nylander before the deadline, though, there are a few schools of thought about what will happen next.
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William Nylander timeline: When is the deadline?
Nylander, a restricted free agent, must agree to terms on a new contract before Dec. 1 or sit out the entire 2018-19 season.
Few thought negotiations would come down to the wire like they have. In the offseason, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas famously guaranteed “we can, and we will” find a way to sign all of Nylander, Matthews and Marner to long-term contracts. The latter two are playing on the final year of their entry-level deals, and Dubas has to save a significant chunk of salary cap space to fashion Matthews and Marner new contracts without crippling the team’s roster construction in the future.
That’s placed a strain on negotiations with Nylander, who reportedly is seeking a long-term deal, while Dubas and the Leafs prefer a shorter “bridge” contract.
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William Nylander contract examples
Boston’s David Pastrnak (six years, $40 million) and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (eight years, $68 million) are most often cited as references for Nylander’s next deal.
“The Nylander camp started with Leon Draisaitl’s $8.5 million a year salary and I don’t think they’ve gone much below that in the subsequent conversations,” Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston reported in October. “It sounds like the Leafs are still focused on something in the sixes.”
Nikolaj Ehlers, who signed a seven-year, $42 million extension ($6 million AAV) with the Jets in 2017, is another recent example.
Those numbers have presumably shifted in conversations since Johnston’s report, but the principle remains. If the Leafs and Nylander can reach a compromise, it will likely split the $2 million AAV difference between Pastrnak and Draisaitl with fewer years in term.
What are the Maple Leafs’ other options?
The Maple Leafs’ options with Nylander are straightforward: Sign him or trade his rights before Dec. 1, or initiate a lost season for both sides.
If traded, Nylander would need to have an agreement in place for a new contract with his acquiring team. That eliminates other cap-strapped contenders who might be interested in taking a flier. If his rights remain with the Leafs, Nylander would be expected to finish 2019 playing in Europe or Russia.
There’s a third, lesser-discussed alternative: The Leafs could trade Nylander’s rights up until the Feb. 25 deadline, a scenario LeBrun explained in a recent column. Such a move would restrict Toronto’s possible trade partners with Nylander ineligible to play in the NHL until 2019-20, but that won’t make a difference for a future-focused team already out of the playoff race. In theory, the Leafs recoup assets for a 2019 playoff run, Nylander gets a fresh start elsewhere, and both sides move on from the headache.
Best trade fits for William Nylander
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are the team most often linked to the Leafs in Nylander trade rumors, thanks to their stable of young defenseman and a desire to add another dynamic forward to Sebastain Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov. Carolina has the luxury to offer any one of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce or Justin Faulk for Nylander. GM Don Waddell reportedly has been most actively talking to the Leafs.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are desperate for speed and scoring help, and acquiring Nylander is the type of blockbuster that could correct Anaheim’s brutal start to season. Like the Hurricanes, they can afford to part with a core defenseman like Cam Fowler (modified no-trade), Brandon Montour or Josh Manson.
Philadelphia Flyers: Another team that’s struggled out of the gate, the Flyers are rife with blueline prospects who could interest the Leafs (Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers). Shayne Gostisbehere or Ivan Provorov would be even more intriguing.
Minnesota Wild: GM Paul Fenton reportedly has been in contact with the Leafs, but the Wild’s red-hot start to the season lessens the need to shake things up. Still, Minnesota relys heavily on aging forwards Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu. Nylander would be worth parting with Matt Dumba or Jared Spurgeon for youth up front.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings don’t seem to have enough resources to entice the Leafs into a Nylander trade, but he certainly would fit with Los Angeles’ need to inject youth and offense into an aging roster. It would take more than Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez to make a deal happen.