William Nylander has become a star for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it hasn’t always come easy for him. Leafs Nation has been very critical of him throughout his eight years with the organization, often blaming him for the team’s misfortunes. However, some of it warranted due to his lack of physicality or his tendency to slack off in the defensive zone.
Yet, Nylander has never given the impression that he’s bothered by outside noise. He has maintained his confidence despite the critiques, which is exactly what a player needs to do playing in a market like Toronto.
Nylander’s NHL Career Thus Far
Nylander was selected eighth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, which started a new era for the Maple Leafs – the organization drafted Mitch Marner in 2015 and Auston Matthews in 2016. He made his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season while the struggling Leafs were vying to win the draft lottery. He scored his first NHL goal on March 5, 2016, assisted by Brooks Laich – who, incidentally, assisted on William’s father, Michael Nylander’s, final goal – and ended his first season with six goals and seven assists in 22 games.
He was still eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy (for Rookie of the Year) in his second campaign in 2016-17 when he finished with 22 goals and 39 assists in 81 games and sixth in Calder voting, ultimately losing to his teammate Matthews. Over the next five seasons, he scored 109 goals and 160 assists, and the Maple Leafs made the playoffs in all but one season (2015-16). He has played in 39 postseason games with 30 points.
Nylander’s Career Season
This season, Nylander has been one of the Maple Leafs’ best and most consistent players. He’s scored a career-high 35 goals to lead the team and 44 assists (two off of his career-high) for 79 points (one off of a career-best). He has also earned the trust of head coach Sheldon Keefe, who uses him in all situations, including occasionally on the penalty kill, and he is also a key contributor on the top power play (PP) unit – he’s on pace to record a career-high in PP points.
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His stellar play this season has led to increased ice time, averaging 18:32 per game, ranked third among forwards on the team. Nylander has been playing alongside Matthews this season, and has been given the ice time to create chances. He has taken advantage of his chances and produced. His career home/away splits show that he is a player who performs exceptionally well at home; 50 of his 79 points have come from playing in Toronto. Which can be very helpful if Toronto can advance further in the playoffs this year.
What’s Next for Nylander
Both Nylander’s and Matthews’ contracts are set to expire on July 1, 2024. Matthews is expected to be the team’s priority, which could leave Nylander on the outside looking in if their cap situation doesn’t change. Toronto already has $34.6 million locked up for 2024-25, when both players’ extensions would start.
Assuming the cap increases by $1 million in the next two seasons, the current limit of $82.5 million will be $84.5 million by 2024-2025. A contract range that they can sign Nylander for is an eight-year, $72 million deal, worth an average annual value of (AAV) $9 million per season. Matthews’ contract would be more expensive, likely in the range of an eight-year, $108 million deal with an AAV of $13.5 million, which could make him the highest-paid player in the league. These deals would leave the Leafs approximately $49.9 million to work with to build the rest of their roster in 2024-25.
Of course, Marner and John Tavares are eligible for extensions in July 2024. While Marner will most likely ask for a significant raise, maybe similar to Matthews, Tavares may be open to taking a pay cut to help keep the team together. He could receive an extension in the ballpark of a four-year, $20 million deal with an AAV of $5 million. However, the club also doesn’t have an NHL starter signed past 2023-24, which will impact their cap structure.
The Maple Leafs could always make Nylander available for something similar to the Matthew Tkachuk trade. But if he continues at this pace next season, the Maple Leafs will most likely try to figure out a way to keep him in Toronto. Contrary to popular belief, he is an elite hockey player, who will be missed if the club can’t find a way to bring him back.
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Overall, Nylander has silenced his haters. He came into 2022-23 with a chip on his shoulder and carried last season’s momentum into this one. It should be a no-brainer for the Maple Leafs to re-sign him as soon as he is eligible, and that will happen if he keeps playing at this level. At this point, he is just as valuable to the team as the other members of the core four.