First of all, I honestly believe that Dubas and Leafs brass will be able to keep the three kids and Johnny T together for the long haul. What happens around them will be a different story, all I can say is that Dubas has the keys to this Lambo and needs to get the job done. There is no question that some players will have to be sacrificed to keep the core together, but with three pistols up the middle like the Leafs got, it makes those decisions a lot easier.
Tavares is locked up, now the Leafs are dealing with the first of the three kid contracts, and boy is Willy acting like a child. Looking at the situation from an unbiased point of view, I can see the sticky situation Nylander is in and why he is being very stubborn. If he signs a contract for $6.5 million, then Matthews and Marner sign for $12.5 and $9 million respectively, next summer he will be a little ticked off. Now these numbers are a shot in the dark, but is Mitchy really $3.5 million better than Willy? In my opinion no, although Marner is definitely the superior talent. His entire career he has been dancing all over the ice, you can even see him put my jock strap in the rafters in his “Hilite” video. (No joke this kid spelt highlight as hilite. Mitch Marner Hockey Hilites on YouTube)
Back to William. The one underlying issue is the fact that Nylander has no rights in this situation. He doesn’t have to sign what the Leafs offer him, but he can’t demand anything himself. At this point of his restricted free agency he has no arbitration rights, so his only leverage is to look at other NHL players he believes his is comparable to. Rumors from the negotiations seem to have Nylander comparing himself to Leon Draisaitl and at least started the negotiations asking for $8 million plus over a long term deal. Not only has Nylander not played up to the level of Draisaitl throughout their entry level contracts, there not even the same position. Draisaitl being a center will get paid more than a winger who would put up comparable numbers anyways. Nylander comparing himself to Draisaitl so he can boost his stock is abysmal.
If we want to bring up comparable NHL players, I along with everyone else in the world (aside from Nylander and his daddy), believe the two main players are Nikolaj Ehlers and David Pastrnak.
I contend these two players and their contracts represent the low and high ends of the spectrum for the Leafs looking to sign Nylander. Ehlers signed a 7 year contract for $6 million AAV after putting up 0.73 PPG during his last year of his entry level contract, which at the time was 8% of the salary cap. On the other end Pastrnak signed a 6 year $6 666 666 AAV contract (appropriate because he is Satan for the Leafs) after putting up 0.93 PPG in the final year if his entry level, which was 8.89% of the cap at the time. Pastrnak certainly has established himself as the superior player to both Nylander and Ehlers, and therefore I believe Nylander should be very pleased with a contract in the 6-7 year range for an AAV of $6.5 million. With Willy putting up .75 PPG over the final two years of his entry level contract and the increase in the salary cap, I would tolerate signing him to a contract for 8.5% of the cap for $6.75 million AAV over a long term deal bringing him to UFA status. Saying that, that is the absolute MAX!
Now that this contract situation is going into deeper into the season, it looks like a middle ground might be to sign a Willy to a bridge deal even though both sides are looking for a long term extension. Personally I like this approach and would prefer it over a long term deal for Nylander. Having Willy at lower cap hit for 2-3 years will allow the Leafs a good window to go for the Cup and after those 2-3 years contracts like Marleau’s will be off the books. As we have seen, signing RFA’s out of entry level focuses a lot on comparable contracts. The most recent player to come out of a bridge deal is Nikita Kucherov.
Over his last two years of his entry level contract, Kucherov put up 0.82 PPG and went on to sign a 3 year $4 766 667 AAV contract for 6.53% of the salary cap. The Leafs should push for a team friendly bridge deal at around $4.5 million AAV for 2-3 years. This would put Willy at 5.66% of the cap, which I believe is fair when you compare the numbers Kucherov and Nylander put up throughout their entry level deals. Kucherov put the league in his back pocket through the first two years of his bridge deal and got rewarded by signing a 8 year $9.5 million AAV contract with the Lightning. If Nylander thinks so highly of himself that he is asking for $8 million, he should have the confidence to sign a bridge deal and put up numbers to make the Leafs pay a boatload after this deal is up.
The Leafs are not budging, which they shouldn’t, so Nylander is not playing in the NHL again unless he folds and signs one of the Leafs offers. He can ask to be traded but even then the Leafs have no obligation to move him and definitely won’t move him unless they are getting something substantial back. Look at the Drouin and Tampa Bay situation, that French pre-madonna made it apparent he didn’t want to play in Tampa anymore but Yzerman didn’t budge until he got something he couldn’t refuse in return. If the Leafs were to trade Nylander there would have to be a stud top 4 d-man, preferably right handed for Mr. Babcock, coming back the other way. One player that comes to mind is Brett Presce out of Carolina. He’s not the flashiest or smoothest d-man, but he is big and signed to term at team friendly value.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room, a potential offer sheet. Nylander looks like a prime candidate for someone to submit an offer sheet to. First off, it seems as if offer sheets never happen anymore. The last offer sheet was submitted and signed was to Ryan O’Reilly while he was in Colorado back in 2012. Even if someone were to submit an offer sheet to Nylander, he would still have to agree to it. The compensation is pretty large, but for a player like Nylander it may be well worth it. An offer sheet from $6 088 980 to $8 118 641 would cost the team singing Willy a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick. It would be a tough decision but I think the Leafs would match anything under this threshold. Once it gets past the $8 118 641 range it wouldn’t surprise me if the Leafs let Nylander go. Two 1st round picks, a 2nd, and a 3rdis pretty good value for a RFA that seems is unwilling to sign a contract with the team that drafted him. As much as it would hurt not getting any roster players back, I would accept letting him go for this value.
It will be very interesting to see what comes out of this whole situation. For the Leafs sake
and being a fan of the team, I hope they come out on top. Willy can sit out the entire year if he chooses, but will end up in the exact same position he is now. After the final decision is made we can look back and see who went wrong. But for now all we can do is observe and hope Dubas gets started on the right track. Let me know your opinions on the situation and see who was most accurate.
Keep the change.