Nylander Contract Dispute Nearing the End

We were all worried about how this contract negotiation would go, but were reassured by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas: “We can and we will”. At the time it was a great quote from Dubas’ interview on Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts: The Podcast. It calmed anxious fans and gave everyone confidence that the Maple Leafs would sign all of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

When the season started it seemed almost expected that Nylander would miss some games. It would be Dubas’ first major re-signing of their young core group of players and unfortunately, that meant that management would set an example with him. That way other players and agents knew that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t be taken advantage of during contract talks.

Now just a day until the contract deadline of Saturday, Dec 1. at 5 pm ET the Maple Leafs and Nylander are down to the wire to get a deal finalized. If they can’t get a deal done then Nylander can’t play in the NHL for the remainder of the season and the Leafs will still retain his rights, so they’ll be back to the contract talks next season.

If management doesn’t see a contract being worked out by the deadline then they might be inclined to trade Nylander for assets that can help the team this season. Either way, the conclusion to this saga will have a ripple effect.

The Nylander Contract Saga

There have been mountains of articles written and tweets from NHL Insiders about Nylander over the past few months, but there’s been surprisingly little information for the amount that it’s talked about. The one thing we do know is that Nylander wants a long-term deal.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 12, 2017. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rumours and reports range from Nylander’s asking price starting at $8 million per season to the Maple Leafs’ starting at $6 million. Like any negotiation, they will both have to meet somewhere in the middle, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman thinks they are still $300,000 per year apart. That may not seem like much when dealing with millions, but if both sides have already given ground then an extra $300,000 could be the breaking point.

In terms of what Nylander is actually worth comes down to point production, position, and comparables. The last time I discussed Nylander’s possible contract I compared him to what Nikolaj Ehlers got, seven years at an average annual value (AAV) of $6 million. They are similar in that they are from the same draft (only one pick apart), both are wingers and both put up back-to-back 60-point seasons.

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Then there are the David Pastrnak comparisons, which don’t hold up. When Pastrnak signed his six-year $6.66 AAV deal he had just come off a 34-goal and 70-point campaign in the 2016-17 season which he followed up with an 80-point season. Comparing the two is a disservice to how good Pastrnak has been and if anything, it shows he’s underpaid.

Amounts in the high $6 millions have been thrown around, so if Nylander signs for that much it’ll be a contract based on what he might do in the future instead of what he’s done.

The Contract Ripple Effect

Regardless of what happens by Saturday, there will be consequences. If Nylander signs for as much as many think he will, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think it would also push Matthews and Marner’s demands up for their contracts. At the same time, if Nylander sits out the season, it could also affect other negotiations.

If they can’t get a deal done and end up trading him, it could be for a weak return, upset other players and it would also look like Dubas failed in his proclamation.

Part of the issue with signing a player midseason is that it affects their cap hit in that first season. According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, if Nylander signs for an AAV of $6.8 million it would turn into roughly a $9.5 million cap hit for this season because of how cap hits are allocated when a contract is signed during the season.

William Nylander Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander battles for position with Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

What McKenzie brought up was that if Nylander’s cap hit ends up being around $9.5 million this season it would severely limit which teams the Maple Leafs could trade with, as many can’t take on a cap hit that big. With the contract potentially limiting the Maple Leafs’ trade partners, it would also limit the return options.

The other effect would be on Dubas himself. He publicly said that he would get all three of Matthews, Marner and Nylander signed. So if he fails with the first guy what kind of confidence does that inspire for the other two? Another thing to remember is that one of the reasons why John Tavares came to the Leafs was because of the opportunity to play with those three players.

End of the Nylander Ordeal

By Saturday, it will finally be over and that is a relief in of itself. No more non-news stories or speculation. The problem is that there will be repercussions regardless of what happens when the deadline comes. Hopefully, they can come to an agreement and get a deal done. Otherwise losing Nylander would be a huge blow to the team and put Dubas on the fanbase’s bad side, and it could negatively affect future negotiations.