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.
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.