Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Does a bridge deal for Nylander benefit the Leafs?

Yet another day passes where Nylander is not signed and his name is being swirled around in rumours about his future. Whether he foregoes all of this season, gets traded, signs a long-term deal, or signs a bridge deal – every avenue is being explored in the rumour mill.

Last Sunday, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported that a long-term agreement did not seem likely at the time and that a bridge deal will happen.

A very rough estimate of what a bridge deal can look like for Nylander is something within the 2-4 year range and have a cap hit anywhere from $4.5-6M. That is a couple of very wide margins, but there is a lot of uncertainty around this contract.

A bridge deal like this will most likely benefit Nylander. If he takes the shorter option then he is still a Restricted Free Agent, but with arbitration rights and he will acquire a ton of more control of what he earns before he is an Unrestricted Free Agent.

Even if he takes the longer option, that walks him right into his UFA years and he will then be able to earn what he is really worth. A massive payout in a higher cap ceiling might see him making close to double-digit millions as a 26-year-old UFA.

But what about the Leafs?

How can any of these options for a bridge deal benefit the team in any capacity? I can think of a few ways that they will be able to take advantage of a bad contract situation.

Gardiner Extension

First off, being able to sign Jake Gardiner to another contract after his expires this summer is extremely crucial. If they let him walk, they will be searching for a defenceman exactly like him for the next five years no matter what.

No prospect is able to come in and fill the hole that he will leave, but that is a whole other story.

For some quick analysis using Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, below is Jake Gardiner and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Gardiner is on the right with the better stats in most categories. If everyone around the hockey world is fine with Ekman-Larsson signing an 8-year contract with a cap hit of $8.25M, then everyone should expect Gardiner to make at least $6.5M.

If Dubas can work some negotiation magic into the discussions with Gardiner and convince him to stay on a shorter-term deal, then everything will be great.

Even if you have to stretch it to a five-year contract, there will always be room to maneuver around the cap for a player of Gardiner’s quality.

With Nylander locked up for a short amount of time with a lower cap hit, there will be more money to go around and to go into a deal for a great defenceman.

Marner’s Next Contract

If Nylander signs a long-term deal, it instantly sets a bar of where the Leafs are valuing their skilled young forwards. A bar that can be used in comparison to the next big contracts they have to worry about next summer.

With Marner’s ELC coming off the books, Nylander’s imaginary long-term contract sets the standard that Marner’s agent will for sure want to leap over with a higher number. If Nylander is making $7.5M per year, then I can imagine Marner’s camp wanting at least $8.5-9M. That is a steep number that further complicates the team’s cap management.

If Nylander takes a short-term deal, therefore providing no real comparison for Marner’s long-term deal, then it can be beneficial to the team.

It might only mean a million or so off the cap hit, but every little cap dollar can matter for a contending team like the Leafs.

Free Agent Flexibility

Similar to the idea of being able to sign Gardiner to a healthy extension, the Leafs will have a couple more million to play with and that can mean attracting bigger names in free agency.

No specific names or ideas, but having Nylander at a lower cap hit for a few years might mean more players coming in that can help in the short-term as well.

If a player like Max Pacioretty only signs for a four-year extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, then I’m sure if you throw some heavy money at a significant player for a short amount of years, they might be intrigued.

It might not even just be the big names, but undervalued players that will sign for a short amount of time in exchange for a higher salary.

Signing a bridge deal can have benefits for both sides. It might still cause some unsettled feelings among fans, since it will feel like they’re just pushing the problem further down the road, but there are more short-term benefits than some might think.

Flexibility is key for some contending teams. Having as many cap dollars to work with each summer can be crucial for how the team performs the following season. It might not be beneficial in the long-term, but this team is ready to contend right now no matter what.

Nylander has to sign soon, or else there is going to be some random article written about him. Every. Single. Day.

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  • mst

    Since only the current team can offer an 8 year deal, a bridge deal now has another benefit as well that you didn’t mention.
    If you have a bridge deal that takes Nylander to 25-26 years old then offering him an 8 year deal doesn’t hamstring the team with a bad contract down the road. If you give him an 8 year deal now do you really want to offer him a second one when he’s pushing thirty? Probably not. That gives the team no real bargaining power the second time.

    I think bridge deals for 2/3 of the big three is probably a good idea. It gets around a cap problem now, allows the team to add more good players in the short term and still has a long term benefit down the road when you’re the only team that can offer 8 years and an 8 year deal still has value to the team.

    • magesticRAGE

      The asking price for Nylander and Marner will be through the roof coming off of bridge deals. They will have had time to bolster their resumes, possibly add hardware, still be in their productive primes, and also have arbitration rights to cap it off. As far as I’m concerned, bridging star players handicaps the team long term, especially when that team has as many start players as the Leafs do.

  • magesticRAGE

    Good read.
    To add to what you are saying, Nylander’s contract negotiations is also crucial to how the industry sees Dubas as a negotiator. If he caves to much of Nylander’s camp demands, he could be viewed as soft. With all the impact players capable of being signed in the next couple seasons, that can’t happen. It’s going to be a juggling act from this point on. Kapanen will need a new deal (Johnsson too) in July, Dermott will be in the following year. Room will also need to be had for both Kadri and Rielly in another 3 seasons after this one plays out. Heck, even Andersen will be up in another 2, so Sparks better remain sharp.

    This will be very interesting.

  • mst

    No hockey winger in the world, whose career high is 61 pts in 82 games makes over 8 mill per year. Let alone an rfa with no arbitration rights whose spent most of his time with an elite center. Nylander’s demands are ridiculous! And giving in to them only hurts the rest of the team. That he would expect and want that makes him SCUM!

    Don’t sign him, don’t trade him. Let the little a-hole play in Siberia this year until he and his Daddy come to their senses.

    I dont want him on the Leafs anymore! Ever!

  • Brandon

    I’d like to see the Leafs keep Nylander, but if it’s not looking good, I’d love to see a larger trade to Carolina with Nylander, and Zeitzev going that way and Pesce and something else coming back. Maybe a long shot, but add Hainsey and try to get Faulk back with Pesce. Carolina’s probably not in for that kind of dump though. A man can dream. Sigh. I wish they’d just sign Willy already.