In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at what seems – in the light of the recent history of signings – to be Kyle Dubas’ conservative style in terms of the length of contracts. I have to admit that, in my thinking, I have been pondering what Jon Steitzer of LeafsNation said about Dubas being more of a “card counter” than a gambler.
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Second, I’ll look back at The Hockey Writers archives in light of Nazem Kadri’s recent signing with the Calgary Flames to review a critique of William Nylander’s 2018 contract negotiations. Those four-year-old negotiations seem relevant now given that Swedish defenseman Rasmus Sandin is also stuck in similar circumstances.
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Finally, I’ll look at Sandin’s difficult predicament. I honestly think he should re-sign for the same numbers that Timothy Liljegren signed for and then work to earn a bigger role with the team. But, in the end, that’s not my call. Given the patch he’s chosen, I think he’s in a tough spot. How to resolve it?
Item One: Maple Leafs’ Kyle Dubas Is Playing It Safe
On one hand, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is critiqued for signing big-money contracts; then, on the other hand, he’s critiqued for letting his players leave via free agency without return. The fact is that there seems to be one criterion Dubas uses to sign players to high-figured contracts. He signs only those players he believes are absolutely essential to the Maple Leafs’ future. That group includes John Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly.
Dubas resists contracts that might have a short shelf life. Specifically, Dubas chose not to re-sign either Zach Hyman, who will be 36 years old when his contract expires with the Edmonton Oilers. Dubas also risked not re-signing Jack Campbell, who will also be 36 years old when his contract with the Oilers expires.
Even if Tavares’ contract seems to be the worst of the bunch, the fact is that he’s still near a point-a-game (76 points in 79 games last season) player. Sure, the Maple Leafs’ captain will produce less as he ages, but Tavares will only be 34 years of age when his current contract ends.
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The seems conservative when compared to two recent signings Calgary Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving made. Nazem Kadri was signed to a seven-year, $7 million per season contract. Treliving then extended his 29-year-old new left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau for eight years (starting next season and running through the 2030-31 season), at an average annual value of $10.5 million.
Both Kadri and Huberdeau will be 38 years old when their contracts expire. Tavares will be four years younger than both of those players. In the light of the Kadri, Huberdeau, Hyman, and Campbell signings, Dubas’ signings look conservative. By the way, TJ Brodie will be 34 when his contract expires; Jake Muzzin (whose contract looks bad because of his injuries) will just turn 35 when his contract expires; and, Morgan Rielly will be 35 when his contract expires.
Item Two: How Much of an Overpayment Was Nylander in 2018
In reading back into The Hockey Writers’ archives, I came across an interesting post written by Jeff Seide on October 7, 2018. The post spoke about William Nylander not being on the roster heading into the opening night because of the negotiations. Then it spoke about Dubas doing his best to get Nylander “to sign at $6 million per season,” but noted that “Nylander and his agent, Lewis Gross, want substantially more.”
Seide noted that “all the pressure is on Dubas after he made a number of public statements about being able to sign and keep all of the organization’s top young talent.”
Finally, Seide wrote, “Even in the unlikely event that Nylander is soon back in the fold at that $6 million mark …” The fact is that in the end, Nylander got more and signed for six years at $45 million. He now is paid $6,962,366 until the end of the 2023-24 season. Honestly, looking at Nylander’s contract and Nazem Kadri’s (seven years as $7 million per year) contract against each other, I know which one I’m happy the Maple Leafs have.
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Dubas’ big-money contracts don’t carry players past an age where they’ll not be able to contribute in ways that aren’t commensurate with their salaries. William Nylander’s contract might have seemed unreasonable at the time of its signing, but it really represents a team-friendly contract in this day and age.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Looking logically at Rasmus Sandin’s situation with the team, I wonder if the holdout is a move to push the Maple Leafs to trade him. The question I have is whether he believes there’s a path for him into the lineup, especially if everyone ahead of him remains healthy.
The rumor has been that Sandin’s holdout is as much about playing time as it is money. If that’s true, it would be ill-advised if Sandin were to announce that he wanted someone moved so he could play more. That would be arrogant, given that he hasn’t impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a full-time job.
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Second, he becomes a lame duck if he requests a trade. If he did so, like Ilya Mikheyev did prior to last season, the writing would be on the wall. He’d almost have to leave when his next contract expired or he’d be traded before. It’s a tough spot for the young defenseman to be in.
Is a trade to another team simply the best option for him?