The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tough stretch of the schedule, with several road games and games tightly packed one after the other. Without Auston Matthews, the team has struggled to score, and while ultimately, everyone in the organization wants and needs Mitch Marner and William Nylander to get going, long term, they're struggles are actually a good thing.
Nylander's contract is set to expire at the conclusion of this season, while Marner has one more year on his entry-level deal. While they will still get good deals, they're currently playing themselves out of a bigger pay raise, giving Lou Lamoriello (if he's still GM) the flexibility to not only pay Auston Matthews what he deserves, but spend more money on other important players to build a Cup contender.
The ideal is to always spread the wealth rather than have a huge percentage of the salary cap tied up in a few players. Marner and Nylander will unlikely get anywhere near 20 goals, with Nylander only scoring 5 in the first 33 games, and Marner with a shocking 2 goals in as many games.
Nylander is on pace for 12 goals, while Marner is on pace for 5. Now, there's no denying their skill - they exhibited it last season and there's a reason they were drafted as high as they were. Make no mistake, they will get paid. But what seemed to be certain lucrative deals may turn into more team-friendly deals, or at the very least, cheaper bridge deals.
Either way, with a salary cap on the rise and two star young guns not performing up to expectations, the Leafs may have been afforded some much-needed manoeuvrability in the long-term.