William Nylander’s last-minute contract resolution is a win for everyone
The first thing that came to mind when it was announced that William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs had agreed to a six-year contract extension was this Kyle Dubas quote from a few months ago.
“We can, and we will,” Dubas said when he was asked about the daunting task of locking up all of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Nylander for the foreseeable future.
After months of lethargic and painful deliberation, Dubas made good on his promise — at least, the early portion of it. Resigning Nylander has been the club’s priority for months. As difficult as it was for many to see this drag on, all the way to 4:55 p.m. ET, to boot, it is admittedly quite impressive that both sides were so ostensibly bullish in their negotiations.
The average annual value of $6.9 million for Nylander is fair. It always was. That pays him as one of the game’s most prolific young forwards and, despite what you might think of Nylander and his production to date, he fits that bill.
“That was something I wanted,” Nylander told Postmedia’s Terry Koshan shortly after the deal was made official. “I didn’t want a bridge deal. I want to stay in Toronto with all the players that we have, and we have a great team.
“I didn’t want to risk it by signing a bridge deal and not being able to stay, if that was going to happen.”
No one will know what Nylander’s camp was asking for throughout this process. It may have very well been in the range of Leon Draisaitl money, which, by most logical accounts, is an overpayment. It’s not crazy to tell yourself, or your peers, or whoever, that anything above $8 million per year is too much for Nylander at this point, even though the market seems to align several players earning that AAV to Nylander. That is why Dubas should receive praise for standing firm and locking up a 22-year-old winger for $6.9 million a season. He didn’t cave or give in to considerably ambitious demands, if that is in fact what transpired throughout this arduous ordeal. For a young general manager only a few months into his new job, that’s commendable.
The same can be said for Nylander and his agent, Lewis Gross. Gone are the days of tough negotiating. It’s easier said now that Nylander is signed but the tough stance put on display courtesy of Nylander’s camp was inspiring in many ways because of what it symbolized. Rarely do players opt for the tactical “sit out” approach because, well, teams and executives have the actual game to use as leverage. If you don’t accept this offer, do you REALLY want to let your teammates, coaches, and fans down? I doubt it. Sign the papers.
That isn’t what Nylander and his reps did, though. His camp stood strong. They had a number in mind and stuck to it, and did so for a while, by the looks of it. No one should blame them for that. Contrary to what some in the industry believe, Nylander is, in fact, one of the game’s best young wingers. For the Maple Leafs, a team stacked with talent, he has been one of their best producers game in, and game out. For what he brings to the table, there was never going to be a discount. Why should there be? It’s quite simple: Nylander earned the right to get his money.
“It was a learning process for sure,” Nylander said. “I never thought it would take this long to come to a deal and that it would go down to the last whatever it was, five, 10 minutes before the deadline. That was an experience for sure I will never forget.”
I don’t blame him. You don’t see that too often but, after holding out for 26 games, he’s ready for action.
“Everything worked out good for both sides, so there is nothing to be bitter about. You want to be playing from the beginning of the season, but things happen for a reason, and I am just so happy that it’s over.”
Now that everyone can move on from #NylanderWatch, the next task at hand for Dubas will be to not only construct new contracts for Marner and Matthews but a slew of upcoming restricted and unrestricted free agents — most notably Jake Gardiner and Kasperi Kapanen.
The big ones are going to be Marner and Matthews. There is zero doubt about that. Now, with Nylander in the mix, all eyes will be on what Dubas does next. He deserves a pat on the back, to be sure, but his work is far from over. Fitting all these talented players under the cap is going to be a persistent headache for the young general manager, especially with how the two have performed thus far. So, expect Marner and Matthews to get paid.
It’s still early, which, depending on how you look at it might be a good or bad thing, but Marner appears headed towards a long-term contract in the $8-$9 million range. Dubas probably starts around that figure. Marner’s camp is likely to push for a figure closer to $10 million. I don’t anticipate a holdout similar to Nylander’s, but then again, no one saw this dance transpiring. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the two signed before the end of the season.
Matthews’ contract will then come into play, if not before Marner’s. This one should be the easiest, if only because of his pedigree. The young star will be paid no less than $10 million on his new deal and is likely to end up earning a long-term contract in the $11-$12 million range.
Let’s say it all gets done and the Maple Leafs exit these negotiations having locked up Marner and Matthews to separate, long-term contracts at $9 million per and $11 million per, respectively. The big four, including John Tavares and Nylander, would earn a combined $37.9 million, barring some slight change in figures.
That’s certainly manageable, but if and when that happens, don’t expect to see the same team rolled out next season. Some guys are going to have to go, and that likely starts with Gardiner. The talented, but mistake-prone defenseman is the team’s most recognized free agent this summer, and with the 28-year-old likely to command a new contract with an AAV in the $6 million range, it’s all but a sure thing that he signs elsewhere. The same goes for Ron Hainsey, whose time in the blue and white is also set to end. That would then give the Maple Leafs an extra $7 million or so at its disposal.
On the other side of the ice, Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, who are very much part of the present and future, are going to need new deals, which shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Dubas. The same might not be said for Connor Brown — who is owed $4.2 million ($2.1-M AAV) until 2020 — as I do believe he will be shipped out this season, if not this coming summer. Brown doesn’t bring enough to the table to warrant sticking around, especially with Kapanen, Johnsson, and Josh Leivo in the fold. That also doesn’t factor in the possible promotion of current Toronto Marlies forwards Carl Grundstrom, Mason Marchment, and Trevor Moore, who could all get looks with the club in 2019.
With all the Nylander contract drama behind them, the Maple Leafs and head coach Mike Babcock can now focus on hockey, which is incredible, considering the team heads into Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres with a 19–8 record. Few teams have been able to keep up with the Maple Leafs and its remarkable offense, led by no other than Matthews — who missed a significant chunk of time — Tavares, Marner, and Morgan Rielly, with substantial contributions from its goalie, Frederik Andersen. It’s insane to think this all happened without a key cog that is Nylander, which is what makes this season — and what’s to come — so tantalizing.
It took several months, but Dubas, Babcock, the Maple Leafs, and Nylander got what they all wanted. Even though it didn’t seem like it at first, this is the best-case scenario for the parties involved. The front office gets to say it locked up a very talented player long-term for less than $7 million per year, and the player, one that was unimaginably and confidently willing to sit out the whole year until he got what he wanted, gets rewarded accordingly.
It’s a win/win in many ways, and now, it’s time for everyone to reap the sizeable rewards.