Source: Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS
We’re over two weeks into the hockey season and William Nylander has still not suited up for the blue and white. With little to no movement on either side, this process has taken longer than expected. William Nylander is one of the big pieces to the future of the Leafs organization, alongside Mitch Marner and the 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews, Nylander is a young player that has potential to be elite. The 22-year-old Swede has played a little over two seasons in Toronto and has put up good numbers. When playing on a line with Matthews they have been a threat to do damage every time they’re on the ice, but so far early this season the Leafs have done quite good without him.
As the summer progressed, questions were being asked when would Toronto and Willie reach an agreement. With Leafs GM Kyle Dubas traveling to Sweden to meet with Willie and with his agent, trying to find a deal before the season starts, the answer has been the same. Neither side has come close to an agreement in contract negotiations. Now Nylander isn’t looking good in this situation. I get it, he wants to get paid, but you're telling me that 6.5 million isn’t good enough for a 22 year that has played less than three seasons in the NHL? Is Willie worth the 8 million he’s asking? Heck no! Not right now. Scoring 135 points in 185 games is a decent start to a promising career, but you got to produce more to earn more money.
He’s young and will have better seasons to come but not taking the 6.5 million he was offered? That’s pretty absurd at this early stage in his career. He’s not going to get more money than Marner or Matthews. If you want to show the Leafs brass you're worth more, than play like it! Have that chip on your shoulder and sign that bridge deal. Nylander can take the two years - six million dollar deal, play like bonkers and collect another heftier pay raise after the two years is up. Don’t forget about playing on a team that is challenging for the Stanley Cup. That would be the cherry on top. I do give Willie credit for saying he wants to take care of himself long term. Though he’d be taken care of right now and the quicker Willie is on the ice playing hockey the quicker he’ll get the chance to prove his worth to Leafs management.
So what if the bridge deal doesn’t happen? Well than Willie has two options; The first option is If he doesn’t sign a new deal with the Leafs by December 1st then he would sit out this whole season, wasting a season and hurting his value more and more by each day. The second option is the Leafs trading him to another team. Now the Leafs don’t want to explore this option hence why they’re being aggressive to get a deal done. Though the Leafs could have to look into this option regardless if need be because quite simply they are in need of another top-four defenceman besides Morgan Reilly.
Taking a quick glance at the current state of the Leafs D-line shows that Jake Gardner has shown flashes of brilliance at times but makes too many mental mistakes. Nikita Zaitsev hasn’t shown us the promise he did when he was in the KHL, and is well overpaid. Travis Dermott looked good with the Marlies last year and could be a possible top 4 defenceman in the future. Ron Hainsey is old and slow. Igor Ozhiganov was an All-Star last year in the KHL but needs to get used to the pace of the North American game with the smaller rink sizes, and just about rounds out the Leafs D-core. If trading Nylander can add the Leafs a really good defenceman it could help the team big time.
The last few years the Leafs have been hurting defensively come playoff time. The defence can be lazy at times, turning over pucks, being beaten on odd-man rushes and giving up too many shots on goal have cost the blue and white games. As seen in both the Bruins and Capitals series the last two years. Spotty goaltending didn’t help either but Andersen is a good goalie nonetheless that can steal games. The defence just hasn’t done their job to help out their number one netminder. If Toronto does trade Nylander, then trading to him to San Jose, Nashville, Anaheim, or Carolina could be the best options for getting a top-tier defenceman. Tampa is in the mix too but no way Toronto would trade Nylander to a divisional team.
Toronto’s lack of a strong defensive core does hurt their chances at hoisting the Cup this season. As scary as the Leafs offence is, especially on the power play, it looks like watching a game of Russian Roulette if you’re the opposing goalie. The last two games have shown the Leafs can't score 5-6 goals every night. There will be dry spells during the season and the defence needs to step up to give the Leafs goaltending some much-needed help.
Is it possible the Leafs brass can afford Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander at full priced deals? No. As much as Dubas and Shanahan think they can pull it off with the salary cap increase next year, it doesn’t look like the case unless something miraculous happens. Nylander presented the first major hurdle, Matthews and Marner will be looking at new contracts in the summer which will be another big hurdle for this Leafs franchise to overcome. It's only going to get tougher.
Trading Nylander might be the best option for the Leafs at the moment. It would get rid of the headaches surrounding the Matthews and Marner situation. Plus getting a top 4 defenseman is what the Leafs need, and the Leafs are already stacked on offense. Even if Dubas doesn’t want to pull the trigger on a trade and send Nylander elsewhere, it's something that needs to be at least thought about if Toronto wants to end their Stanley Cup drought.