Johnston: “90% chance” William Nylander is a Leaf next season

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
7 months ago
If you ask your average Toronto Maple Leafs fan, there’s a good chance they don’t have an appetite for another contract dispute. New general manager Brad Treliving saved us all from a season of speculation and discourse by locking Auston Matthews up for an additional four years in August, but that’s not where the work ends. 
William Nylander is next up on the docket for a new deal, and it seems like just yesterday we were talking about his last contract extension. In case you forgot (I know you didn’t), he sat out the first two months of the 2018-19 season in the midst of his contract negotiations with former GM Kyle Dubas. 
The two sides eventually settled on a six-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $6.9 million on December 1, 2018, but the drama didn’t end there. Nylander understandably got off to a slow start and never really found his game, finishing the year with only seven goals and 27 points in 54 games. His dispute upset the fanbase and saw a chunk of them turn on him, putting him under the microscope for every little mistake he made and giving him an extra degree of criticism. It wasn’t even until somewhat recently that fans started to recognize just how good of a player he was. 
Anyway, enough about the old negotiations, let’s focus on the present. As it stands right now, Nylander has expressed his desire to play in Toronto on a number of occasions and has given agent Lewis Gross the green light to negotiate his deal during this season, under the condition that he doesn’t hear about the negotiations himself. This time around, the Leafs don’t have the benefit of restricted free agent status for the 27-year-old, so a deal has to be done by next July 1st. 
Some fans are understandably on edge despite the fact that we’re still in the negotiation stage and not in the dispute stage. If you’re one of those fans, I’ve got an audio bite that should help you exhale a little bit. 
TSN NHL Insider and Athletic contributor Chris Johnston recently joined Jonas Siegel and James Mirtle on the Leaf Report podcast, and when the two hosts tried to ask him a hypothetical about a scenario where Nylander doesn’t re–up with the team, he said this: 
“Okay, we should stop right there. I don’t think there’s any reason to think Nylander won’t sign an extension in Toronto. Here’s the dirty secret of that negotiation in my opinion; the Leafs know he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. They’re the only team that can sign him to an eight-year deal. What the Leafs can pay him over eight years and what another team can sign him for over seven years is not really that different.”
Mirtle and Siegel pressed him a little bit, bringing up Zach Hyman’s desire to stay in Toronto before he signed with the Edmonton Oilers, but CJ stayed firm on his stance. I’m not going to paraphrase the entire interview, but he went on to say this:
“I just think if you have a player who wants to be here, and the team really really wants to sign him, I think ultimately cooler heads will prevail and he will be a Leaf. I’m willing to put it at 90 percent that Nylander is a Leaf next season.”
Wow. Talk about a bomb at the end of that appearance. I feel like it’s worth a disclaimer that CJ is not “reporting” that Nylander will 90 percent be Leaf, but rather affirming his belief in that. And even if you don’t trust anything insiders say, you can’t argue that Johnston is closer to the Maple Leafs more than any of us, so his belief has to carry some merit. 
The general consensus from fans about Nylander’s negotiations seems to be, if it’s between $9-10 million, get it done, but if it’s over $10 million, pack your stuff. Of course, you’ve got extremes on both sides of that debate; those who are still mad at him for his holdout five years ago and don’t want to pay him at all, and those who are willing to give him a blank cheque. 
Based on what CJ said, it seems like the Leafs will really have a leg up on other teams in the sense that they can afford to pay him an extra year. Sure, maybe some team in free agency will open their chequebook and offer him a number starting with a ten, but the Leafs can surpass the total amount owed with that extra year. If they’re willing to sign him to eight years, which I’m confident they are, and Nylander truly does want to be here, it makes sense to believe that a deal will get done at some point. 
I think it’s reasonable to believe that the two sides can meet in the middle and settle on a number in the $9-10 million range, but I’d pay him even if it goes slightly over $10 million. He’s consistently gotten better every year, setting career highs in goals (40), assists (47), and points (87) in 2022-23, and he’s consistently delivered in the playoffs, too. He hasn’t given any reason to suspect he might not keep his production up in the coming years, and assuming he’s being transparent when he says he wants to be in Toronto, you want to lock those guys up. 
What do you think the Leafs should pay Nylander? Let us know below. You can listen to the full thing here if you have an Athletic subscription, if not, it’s available on all podcast streaming services.

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