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William Nylander asking for $10M isn’t insane, but the Leafs shouldn’t rush to pay it

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
The $10M barrier is a big one in the NHL. To date there haven’t been a lot of players that have gone over that number but you really wouldn’t know it by looking at the Maple Leafs Capfriendly page. No team has felt more comfortable handing out that payday than the Leafs and it’s likely because of that Toronto is now at a crossroads when it comes to William Nylander.
When it comes to contracts, context is always going to be king. On his last deal that Nylander signed as a 22 year old, he was coming off a season that he produced 61 points in 82 games. He had just hit the 20 goal mark for the second time and tied his career best point total. Kyle Dubas certainly was still paying for a bit of upside in that contract and after a rocky first year of that deal, Nylander delivered on it.
At the time William Nylander’s contract took up 8.76% of the Leafs cap space. Thanks to the flattened cap it still only eats up 8.3% of the Leafs cap space and if all things were equal William Nylander signing at that same 8.76% hit would put him at $7.6M on next season’s projected $86.5M cap. The catch is we now know what William Nylander is and paying for potential is now replaced with someone who has been a point per game player the past two seasons and one who has hit 40 goals this past year. The upside is gone and the known quantity is something that teams generally pay for.
So in a league where there are 15 players with cap hits over $10M, what is Nylander’s case for being the 16th?
The first piece of the argument is that there will be a lot more than 15 next season when teams see a $3M jump in cap space. I’m not sure if we see that number of $10M players double next season, but I’d project we see it over the next two years.
There are also the comparable players that are a bit damning for Brad Treliving. Lewis Gross is Johnny Gaudreau’s agent and gone through the negotiation process with Brad Treliving recently and knows what he was willing to do for Gaudreau. Gaudreau’s upside (115 points) certainly exceeds what Nylander would get, but with Gaudreau securing 11.82% of Columbus’ cap space in free agency is significant and the belief is that Gaudreau took a haircut to go to Columbus, which still seems like a funny thing to say.
The Huberdeau contract is another one that is going to be brought up as Treliving did break the $10M barrier to give Huberdeau $10.5M annually. Like the Gaudreau one it doesn’t look particularly good last year but was based on a 115 point season and despite Nylander having better numbers than Gaudreau and Huberdeau last season, their contracts were based on seasons with over 20 points more than we’ve seen from Nylander in a year so far. Huberdeau’s contract ate up 12.73% of Calgary’s cap space at the time.
Perhaps the best comparable players for Nylander are the ones that he has exceeded statistically but they didn’t break the $10M barrier. Tyler Seguin’s offensive outputs have mirrored Nylander’s and he was awarded 12.39% of the Stars cap space for a $9.85M cap hit. Jamie Benn cashed in at a time he had similar numbers to Nylander’s at 13.01% of the Stars cap. Both of those deals look regrettable now, but it would be shocking if agents weren’t still bringing them up in negotiations.
Mark Stone is much more of an all around player than Nylander, but his offensive numbers aren’t far behind Nylander’s and he commanded an 11.95% cut of Vegas’ cap.
Foregoing forward to forward comparisons it is worth noting that Darnell Nurse was handed 11.34% of the Oilers cap space and while not a contract anyone should be looking to mirror, it does give some context to what players and agents feel comfortable going after, especially in Canadian markets.
Another closer to home example is Mitch Marner’s restricted free agent contract. The Leafs were comfortable giving Marner 13.38% of the cap space on the back of his first 90+ point season. William Nylander has still never hit that mark and thus 13% seems unrealistic, but with Nylander being closer to that now than he was at the start of his last contract, coupled with the added premium from the potential earnings on the open market, Nylander is going to want a larger piece of the pie.
When we’re looking at a recent number that should keep things in check there’s Timo Meier’s $8.8M AAV that equates to 10.54% of the Devils cap space. Nylander’s numbers might be a bit better than Meier’s and adjusting for the rise in the cap Nylander’s camp is probably not listening to anything below $9.2M AAV.
That $9.2M number is an interesting one and one the Leafs will likely need to reflect on. If $10M is the magic number to keep William Nylander is that $800k enough to make the Leafs happy to avoid replacing Willy next summer? Is that $800k a good investment knowing that the Marner negotiations are still to come and history has shown that contract will be even more contentious. William Nylander at $10M would mean that he’s at 11.56% of the Leafs salary cap. And that puts him right around the Gaudreau “team friendly” deal in Columbus.
While it is easy to see how the Leafs could get to $10M with Nylander it’s also easy to appreciate why they don’t want to get there and why with the Gaudreau/Huberdeau 115 point marks being Treliving’s requisite for a $10M that hardball is going to be played. If the Meier deal at $8.8M is the low and $10M is the high, there seems to be some room to find a happy medium and the Leafs will be better off for it, but it also seems like having a sense of urgency about the Nylander negotiations might be unnecessary.
If a good open market payment for Nylander essentially equates to him making $9.2M on his next deal, Toronto does have the option to wait. Nylander playing out his contract year isn’t a bad thing and Toronto can either have a tough choice at the trade deadline or scramble like hell after the postseason.
There’s also what is the value of this season of William Nylander that needs to be factored into the equation. Ryan O’Reilly commanded the Leafs give up a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and a middling prospect. They did also get Noel Acciari though. Nylander’s value is going to be considered above that and if keeping William Nylander for another year rather than getting a return that won’t live up to the player, they are sending out is better course of action, the decision to wait on Nylander seems like a no brainer. The Leafs can become cap compliant with Nylander sticking around despite narratives that are pushing for a trade.
Waiting on Nylander also gives the Leafs time to assess John Tavares and the potential costs associated with him going forward. Even with the cap going up it seems unlikely that Nylander and Tavares combined will tie up as much cap space as they presently do.
There is also some benefit in having players like Sebastian Aho, Jake Guentzel, Sam Reinhart, and Elias Pettersson (at the high end) establish a few more market comparisons.
Personally, I’d like to believe that William Nylander will continue as a Leaf. I think the fact that criticism seemingly rolls off him like water off a duck’s back makes him perfect for dealing with Toronto and much like what the Leafs brought in with Ryan Reaves, Nylander is a clubhouse organizer that brings his teammates together. If his father’s long career is any indication of Willy’s career (it most likely isn’t) he’s a good bet to be playing for a long time as well. Maybe the key is to pay him over $10M for his best years and see if he’ll take a little less in the final years of an eight year deal.

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