Doable Deadline Deal Could Spark Set of Moves for Maple Leafs

With talk that William Nylander might be too expensive for the Toronto Maple Leafs to hold onto when his contract expires, questions are beginning to surface about what the Leafs will do if they believe he’s not an affordable option moving forward. That, coupled with the fact that the Leafs have an interest in another forward that could be hitting the trade market this season, there could be a door open that leads to a series of moves that many Leafs’ fans would view as a significant change to this roster.

The Tyler Bertuzzi Contract in Detroit

Ansar Khan of believes that Tyler Bertuzzi is a player the Detroit Red Wings are likely to move if a contract extension isn’t worked out between the team and the player this season. He notes that even if the Red Wings are in the playoff hunt, they’ll move the forward if terms aren’t agreed upon. He also notes that the Maple Leafs will likely be keeping a close eye on this situation as it unfolds.

Tyler Bertuzzi #59, Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi #59, Detroit Red Wings – December 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Khan notes that the Maple Leafs have long been rumored to be fond of Bertuzzi and the attributes he brings to a game. He writes, “The immensely talented Maple Leafs desperately need to win at least one playoff round, which they haven’t done since 2004, and could use the elements Bertuzzi brings.” If so, the Leafs might be looking at Bertuzzi ahead of this season’s NHL Trade Deadline, likely as a rental.

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But, what if Bertuzzi becomes more than that? With the COVID protocols and travel restrictions a thing of the past, it’s certainly possible.

Could Bertuzzi Be a Long-Term Fit?

With any deadline trade, GMs will ask if there’s a chance this player is a good fit beyond just a few months a team might have that player on their roster. While the Red Wings might be open to prospects and picks and retaining salary, the Leafs might be open to giving more up if they can talk extension with the player before pulling the trigger on a trade. Doing so not only brings more value to any deal but potentially gives the Leafs an option following the season.

That option is trading Nylander, assuming the rumors are true that he’s about to price himself out of what the Leafs and Kyle Dubas can afford. Multiple insiders have looked at this Nylander situation and many are painting a picture that it’s not so good. Nick Kypreos noted during his show on Sportsnet 590 alongside Justin Bourne, “You do not let Willy, you don’t let Matthews, you don’t let your top guys get to July 1st UFA. Don’t let assets like this walk out and burn you as Johnny Hockey did for Calgary.” He’s not the only one concerned about this and there’s a real worry that could happen with Nylander if terms aren’t agreed upon sooner than later or he’s unwilling to shave a little of his contract and ask to stick with the team.

Meanwhile, Khan notes that the Leafs would know what they’re getting in trading for Bertuzzi, so there’s not much concern outside of his injury history. He writes, “There is enough of a sample size to know what Bertuzzi can do when healthy and in good shape: with a 30-goal season and two 21-goal campaigns over the past four years.” If the Leafs feel they can’t keep Nylander at $8 or $9 million, would they be better served trying to lock Bertuzzi in at around $6-$6.5 million and making other plans?

How a Bertuzzi In and Nylander Out Situation Could Unfold

If the Red Wings elect to move Bertuzzi, the Leafs could offer a decent package of picks and prospects, along with a potential roster player to land their rental forward. From there, he joins the roster that includes Nylander and the Maple Leafs try to make a run. Once the offseason kicks in, if Toronto doesn’t feel Nylander is likely to be an option, they can move him ahead of the NHL Entry Draft and pick up some really nice pieces to fix their blue line or fill holes in other areas.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Undoubtedly, Nylander becomes one of the most attractive trade pieces during the offseason for any team looking for a top-line winger that might only be getting better. Teams that have the money to offer him a big contract will make solid pitches to acquire him. Toronto simply takes the best deal.

It then becomes a matter of finding a fit with Bertuzzi — something Tony Wolak of The Hockey Writers broke down nicely here. Assuming he doesn’t take the same hometown discount he might by sticking with the Red Wings, Bertuzzi should still come in at a lower cost than Nylander is now ($6.9 million). The Leafs will have a skilled, but grittier player on their roster, and they can start thinking about other contracts like the one Auston Matthews will command. Dubas will have moved on from a contract he can’t afford, gotten a solid return in doing so, made space for future deals, and found his replacement winger, all while filling holes in other areas.

Fans won’t love the idea of Nylander leaving, but Bertuzzi taking his place will lessen the sting. And, if it means keeping Matthews…