Nylander is Lamoriello’s next contractual challenge
September 2, 2017, 12:35 PM ET [127 Comments]
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Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello successfully navigated through the summer of 2017, re-signing restricted free agents Zach Hyman and Connor Brown to team-friendly contract extensions, but as the opening of training camp approaches, the club’s management is likely eyeing the challenge of getting the “Big 3” of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander locked up.
Matthews and Marner are entering their second pro season and will not be eligible to be extended until July 2018, but it is unknown whether the Leafs will be proactive with the pair and get them under control being entering the final year of their entry-level contract (as Edmonton did with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) or wait till their ELC expires before beginning to negotiate (which appears to be what Buffalo is doing with Jack Eichel).
Nylander became eligible to sign a new deal on July 1, but there have been no indications that the Leafs and the 21-year-old forward’s representatives have started contract talks.
The value for a team being proactive is getting a player signed with a year left on their ELC, so they have less on their resume to demand a higher salary.
Toronto may have helped their case with Nylander down the line by calling the 2014 first rounder at the end of the 2016 season for 22 games and burning the first year of his entry-level. Even if the Leafs wait until next summer to sign the speedy Swede to a new deal, Nylander will only have two full NHL seasons to use as a negotiating point.
There is a fear that Nylander could be in position to demand a deal close to Draisaitl’s eight-year, $68 Million extension ($8.5 Million AAV) if he puts up big numbers playing on Matthews’ line for a full season, but comparables like Alexander Wennberg’s new contract with Columbus are an indicator that the Leafs can get Nylander signed without breaking the bank.
Wennberg was selected 14th by the Blue Jackets in 2013 and scored 59 points (13 goals, 46 assists) in his third full campaign with Columbus last season (two points less than Nylander) and signed a six-year, $29.4 Million extension ($4.9 Million AAV) on Friday.
If Nylander matches his rookie totals, Toronto appears to be in a better position to get him signed to a deal closer to Wennberg than to Draisaitl. The only way that his price tag escalates is if he has a breakout year like 2014 Draft classmate and friend David Pastrnak did last season.
Lamoriello’s ability to negotiate a favorable deal is one factor that has to be taken into consideration, but there are other considerations that could keep Nylander’s price point more reasonable.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock indicated at the end of last season that in spite of seeing Nylander as a center, he will not move from wing with Matthews, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak occupying the top three spots up the middle.
One of the big contributing factors in Draisaitl’s new deal was being a legitimate #2 center to play behind McDavid. Nylander will have considerably less leverage as a free agent winger.
Another possible factor is whether Nylander stays on Matthews line next season. Babcock punished the winger by placing him on the fourth line a few times, but also flipped him and Connor Brown on the road to have him play with the more defensively responsible Kadri and Leo Komarov.
The addition of Patrick Marleau gives Babcock more options next season. The veteran winger is likely to play alongside Matthews and could force the versatile Hyman to move to the right side. If that happens, Nylander could see most of his ice time with Kadri and Komarov.