The most fitting introduction would be to start by saying — it wasn’t supposed to come to this.
Before the current season, everyone expected the Toronto Maple Leafs to re-sign William Nylander. A bridge deal or a long-term contract, it didn’t matter, something was going to get done.
Then the puck dropped, and Nylander wasn’t on the ice.
And then October passed, and still nothing.
And now it’s November 1st, and both negotiating parties are at a “deadlock” according to Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman. There appears to be no resolution in sight with new reports coming out every day that Nylander wants a lot more AVV (Average Annual Value) on a long-term contract than the Maple Leafs can agree to. Bridge deal? Who knows? At this point, it’s exhausting.
I never wanted to write these words down but if it is as bad as it appears, what if a trade is the only fix? General manager Kyle Dubas is a brilliant and resourceful guy and wants to do what is best for the Maple Leafs, all the while leaving a good impression on his boss and others around the league. He doesn’t want to come off as a “soft”. Nylander, on the other hand, has already proven himself on the ice with back-to-back 61-point seasons as Auston Matthews’ primary winger. To Nylander, it’s not “this is what I am worth now” it’s more so “this is what I am worth now, and this is how much better I can become on this team.” That is, presumably, what his camp is stressing as it hopes to land Nylander a good deal.
If either side refuses to cave, a trade is inevitable. That is still a big “if” but the possibility should be moderately explored, at the very least. So let’s try and get to the bottom of it all, examining the landscape of a potential Nylander trade, and which team(s) could get a call.
Tier one: The clear “no’s.”
Every team in the Atlantic Division
The Atlantic has some excellent teams and some terrible ones. The Leafs are a good one, and they’re not trading Nylander to anyone in the division. That quickly eliminates seven possibilities. Next.
Tier two: A spec away from being “no”
New Jersey Devils
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
New York, I love you! Oh, and Vancouver!
As much as Canucks fans think the hot start is sustainable, the team’s back end is still bad. Any potential Nylander deal would likely involve a top defenceman or two coming back — a trend in this piece. The Devils lack defence, and the Rangers are rebuilding. After destroying the Islanders soul in the offseason, I can’t see Dubas trading with Lou Lamoriello anytime soon, even for Nylander.
Tier three: It’s very, very unlikely but stranger things have happened
Las Vegas Golden Knights
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
Yeah, so, there is a lot to take in here. Let’s aim to be expeditious. A ton of these teams doesn’t have the cap space to take on a Nylander trade, especially if he prefers to sign a deal with an AVV anywhere between $7-to-$8 million.
The Stars and Capitals are way up against the cap. The Penguins are close, too. The only attractive defenceman in Colorado is Tyson Barrie — still not enough. The Knights have some good forwards and defenceman — Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, as well as Reilly Smith up front — but they, too, no longer have a ton of space due to a surplus of recent contract extensions.
Unless Dubas were to decide to trade for a couple of forwards, the Coyotes could be ruled out as well, because Ekman-Larsson isn’t going anywhere and he’s not a centerpiece for Nylander. The Sharks are the most intriguing team of this group, if only for their terrific forward depth. An equally strong argument could be made, then, that the Sharks don’t need to package anyone for Nylander in that case. Also, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson aren’t getting traded.
Not even sure why I have Chicago or LA in this tier. Both have little-to-no cap space available and lack top talent outside of its aging core.
Tier four: Middle of the pack. It makes some degree of sense, but don’t count on it
St. Louis Blues
Columbus Blue Jackets
A Leafs-Jets trade would be bonkers and does make some sense on paper. The Jets front office is in a similar situation to that of Dubas in Toronto. Patrik Laine is owed a new contract soon. Same with Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba. It’s hard to see the Jets making this kind of a move, but something like Connor-Trouba for Nylander and perhaps another player could work, but it doesn’t seem likely.
The Blues and Oilers have a few good young defencemen in Colton Parayko, Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom. None of them are true top-pairing guys, at least, not on most teams. It’s hard to see Dubas being swayed to trade one of the game’s best young forwards for either of them. An interesting scenario could see the Oilers parting ways with Nurse and winger Jesse Puljujarvi, who looks like he’s had it with the coach. Puljujarvi’s upside is tantalizing, and a change of scenery could bring out the best in him, but Nylander has already established himself in the NHL, something Puljujarvi has yet to do. With the Leafs looking to win now, substituting a project and Nurse for Nylander doesn’t seem ideal.
I end with the Blue Jackets for one reason. How wild would a Artemi Panarin-Nylander swap be? It’s riskier for the Maple Leafs because the Russian winger is a free-agent-to-be and rumors have circulated that he prefers to play somewhere like New York, which is odd, considering the state of those teams (money, baby). As far as skill goes, Panarin is one of the only potentially available forwards that match up with Nylander through trade. A move of this nature would be contingent on Dubas signing Panarin to an extension, which therein lies the rub. If the Maple Leafs don’t want to pay Nylander $7-million-plus on a long-term deal, would they want to do that with Panarin, who earns $6-million right now and is due for a nice raise?
It’s a fun idea in theory.
Tier 4: Best chance — maybe…?
Starting with Calgary. This front office has made some puzzling moves, beginning with James Neal on a long-term deal and trading away Dougie Hamilton. Luckily for them, the Flames are loaded with D prospects, good ones, too.
Oliver Kylington, Juuso Valimaki, and Rasmus Anderson are the headliners. All three project as legit NHL players, at least according to The Athletic’s Corey Pronman. I also can’t help but look at Matthew Tkachuk and wonder if the Flames would be willing to part with him if the Maple Leafs showed interest.
Tkachuk is a puck-possession darling and is rapidly developing into one of the league’s best forwards. He’s young with an edge and has a connection to Matthews. The duo were teammates for two years with the U.S. National Team before being drafted, and Tkachuk was born in Arizona with Matthews being raised there, as well.
The issue here is Calgary’s cap space. Trading a prospect and Tkachuk for Nylander wouldn’t work because Tkachuk is on the final year of his ECL and we know Nylander needs a contract. Both sides would need to get creative in hopes of making a deal.
There has been a ton of people linking the Hurricanes and Leafs through trade. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun went as far to report that the Hurricanes are very interested in Nylander or, as he put it, “a top-6 forward”.
The Hurricanes have several legit defencemen, but the ones that would ostensibly be of interest to the Leafs brass are Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, and Hamilton. On their own, Faulk and Pesce aren’t enough, so a forward would need to be added. Or, the Leafs could ask for Hamilton alone.
As I highlighted recently, Hamilton has produced as one of the league’s best defenceman the past several years. He’s everything a team could want in a top-pairing guy. The Toronto kid also has two years left on his deal that pays him $5.7-million and Carolina’s cap situation is fluid enough to make a deal work well.
A straight up swap of Nylander-Hamilton is interesting, but I can see both sides entertaining the idea for more. Maybe Dubas convinces Carolina’s front office to take on Ron Hainsey, or even Nikita Zaitsev? A guy can dream. Instead, perhaps he throws in Connor Brown and asks for one of the Hurricanes young forwards, such as Valentin Zykov or Warren Foegele. The point is, there are options here.
One trade proposal I thought of was Nylander and Brown for Hamilton, Zykov and a 6th. That would give the Hurricanes a terrific core of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Nylander to build around.
For the Maple Leafs, it’s hard not to get excited about a top-pairing of Morgan Rielly and Hamilton. It would also free up cap space for Mitch Marner and Matthews, and give Zykov — an underrated forward — the chance for more playing time, which he deserves.
I don’t love this one as much, but there’s a link, mainly because of two good defencemen: Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba. I have even seen some suggest that the Leafs could land both for Nylander. Who knows? My concern is, why would Minnesota do that? They probably wouldn’t.
Like other teams in the NHL, the Wild’s competitive window is shrinking rapidly. Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Devan Dubnyk, and Ryan Suter are all on the wrong side of 30. For that reason, there’s not much incentive here for a deal. It would need to include Dumba and Spurgeon, or one of the two and a forward, and even that isn’t too sexy.
This is my sleeper pick. Hampus Lindholm, baby. Though he’s left-handed, Lindholm is an elite defenceman and one that matches up well regarding equal value.
If the Leafs contact the Ducks regarding Nylander, it’s Lindholm they should ask for, regardless of what the reaction is. The 24-year-old is paid reasonably ($5.2M AAV) and is under contract until 2022. Though not as proficient and subsequently young as Lindholm, right-handed guys Josh Manson and Brandon Montour are two other good defencemen in Ducks land.
It leads me to wonder if the Ducks would part with winger *Ondrej Kase — a real talent — along with Montour or Manson. That would be a deal that could thread the needle for the Maple Leafs, but it’s Lindholm that should be the target.
*Kase is currently out with a concussion
This one is simple. Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm or bust. No, seriously. The Predators probably wouldn’t do it, and asking for Roman Josi or PK Subban would be overly ambitious on the Leafs part.
Ekholm and winger Kevin Fiala would be an excellent get for Nylander, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my — or anyone’s — part. Ellis for Nylander alone? Intriguing, but unlikely. Ekholm and Ryan Hartman? Too little for Nylander. Eeli Tolvanen? Big on skill, not yet proven. See, there are options, it would come down to interest (obviously, idiot).
Again, it’s Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov or bust. These guys are two of the league’s best young defenceman. If Dubas were to get laughed at for asking about Ghost, what I would do is try and get the Flyers to bite on a 2-for-1: Nylander for Provorov and Travis Konecny.
That is probably too steep for the Flyers, so to offset the discrepancy, Dubas could offer another forward — such as Josh Leivo, Andreas Johnsson, or Brown. It would weaken the Flyers defensively, but a top-6 of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, James Van Riemsdyk, Nolan Patrick, and Nylander is as good as it gets. And you get to keep Ghost!
Again, tough to rationalize any of this for either side, because anything is likely viewed as an overpay until something gets done. On that note, it’s still entirely reasonable to assume Dubas gets Nylander to sign on the dotted line, but if it does come down to it, this offers up a semi-reasonable idea as to which teams could bite the bullet, and at least pick up the phone if the Maple Leafs call.
But, will they?