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Report: Leafs at critical “decision time” with Nylander

The hottest RFA on the market still needs a contract… what gives?

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As the calendar rolls on from August to September and the air begins to cool ever so slightly, one things becomes abundantly clear: we’re getting closer to hockey season. With just a month to go until opening night in the NHL, hockey fans are beginning to wake from their offseason long hibernation and wise up to the comings and goings of the hockey world. One of the biggest developments still to come however, is a new contract for Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander.

The 22 year old Swedish forward’s three year, entry level contract expired on June 30th, 2018 and it would appear that he and the Leafs have done little negotiating this offseason. Despite some chatter about a potential long-term deal, not much has been reported on Nylander’s negotiations, leaving many Leafs fans wondering just what the hold up is…

In his latest article for the Toronto Star, Leafs insider Damien Cox asserts that time is running out for the Leafs and Nylander on a long term deal and that both sides may be forced to negotiate a shorter term bridge deal. With 42 goals and 80 assists through his first 163 NHL games, Nylander has done more than enough to warrant a long-term commitment, but for whatever reason the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement on dollars or term. 

Cox points to the seven year, $42 million extension signed by Winnipeg Jets sniper Nikolaj Ehlers as a potential comparable, but the eight year, $68 million extension signed by Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl may be a more fair comparison. Jake Virtanen of the Vancouver Canucks and Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames, both players chosen ahead of Nylander in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, are on short term bridge deals, but neither player has come close to matching Nylander’s NHL production.

So… what’a the deal? Here’s Cox’s take on things:

Nylander has bargaining power, and he also knows that Winnipeg winger Nik Ehlers, taken eighth in that draft, signed a seven-year, $42-million contract extension last October that kicks in this season, and that he and Ehlers are pretty similar players.
At $6 million per season, it seems like a good deal for Winnipeg and a tad low for Nylander. But not if it was just for the next two years and he could renegotiate after that, for substantially more. So maybe the bridge deal could be very good for him, too.

No doubt Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has expensive extensions for Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews on his mind, so maybe a bridge deal makes sense for Nylander. Get him locked up for two or even three years, let him prove himself and then pay up once you know EXACTLY what you’re paying for. Then again… the Leafs stand to lose out in that scenario. What if Nylander’s game suddenly takes off to a new level or he establishes himself as the team’s top line center? Suddenly, he could command twice as much money and the Leafs would have been wise to lock him up while they had the chance. 

It’s a precarious situation and time is running out for Dubas and the Leafs to figure it out. Tick tock, Kyle…