The Toronto Maple Leafs are likely playing their final regular season games with William Nylander in the lineup. It’s no secret that the team has significant salary cap issues headed into next season, and one of the core four will have to go. While there’s only a small group of people who know who that player will be, it seems more likely Nylander will be the odd man out, and that’s a shame.
Despite putting up career numbers, 74 points in 75 games, including 31 goals, Nylander’s demotion to the third line has sealed the 25-year-old’s fate. However, the third-line relegation has improved Nylander’s play. After playing most of the season with John Tavares as his centre, Nylander has flourished with a few different centres on the third line, like Alex Kerfoot and David Kampf.
Maple Leafs Need to Find Money
It’s not his play that will see Nylander’s time in Toronto end, which is ironic because the critics have often gone after him as a soft player. No, his play is enough to keep him on any team; his paycheque will show him the door this summer. No team can afford to have its fourth highest-paid player getting third-line minutes.
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The Calgary native who Toronto selected in the first round of the 2014 draft has two more years left on his contract. Those years come with a $7 million cap hit. Not just any cap hit, but a hit on a team that just can’t afford it. Toronto will have to re-sign Jack Campbell or find another goalie. Morgan Rielly has already been given a raise that will kick in next season. Ilya Mikheyev, the Leafs’ new second-line winger, becomes a free agent. Toronto will also have to sign Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Pierre Engvall and Ondrej Kase, who become restricted free agents.
With those budget constraints, Nylander’s $7 million will be needed just to start to address the financial struggles the Maple Leafs will have this summer. The Maple Leafs can fill the third-line winger position with a much cheaper option who is either already in the system or will be a free agent this summer.
Nylander Has Grown to be a Force
Nicknamed “Willy Styles” when Joe Thornton was on the team last year, he has shown coaches, players and fans several different versions of himself as he has grown with the organization. After starting his career as a quiet player, he began to get loud last season in the playoffs. Nylander was the best Leaf on the ice in the postseason and showed a lot of leadership that carried over to the 2021-22 season. He recently spoke about his linemate Pierre Engvall’s improved play over the last few weeks. Nylander talked about going for dinner with Engvall, complimenting him on his play, and challenging him to continue. Nylander said he has to watch out for his fellow Swedes.
On the downside, Toronto will be losing a key piece of the team that’s been there for eight years. However, the way Nylander has played this season, his value is very high. Toronto should get a good return when Nylander hits the trade market. That trade could happen before the draft. Toronto only has three picks in the upcoming draft, and the team traded away the second-round pick in 2023. Several teams desperately need a scoring threat and could offer Toronto the draft capital to keep the farm well stocked. Those teams would happily put a point a game player on their top line.
Wherever Nylander goes, it’s been a pleasure to watch him grow up in Toronto. Unfortunately, his contract will end his time in the blue and white, but he could be the scoring leader, even the face of the franchise for his next team.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.