How the Toronto Maple Leafs can solve the William Nylander problem

The Toronto Maple Leafs have until Dec. 1 to re-sign restricted free agent William Nylander.

Who is William Nylander?

For two reasons, Nylander is the most notable RFA in the NHL. First, at just 22 years old he has already contributed back-to-back 61-point seasons. In 2017-18 he delivered 20 goals and 41 assists to go along with a plus-20 rating in 82 games. Second, Toronto is without question one of the best teams in the league. It opened as a co-favorite with a couple of others to win the Stanley Cup and it is currently a +750 favorite (the Tampa Bay Lightning are not far behind at +800, followed by the Nashville Predators at +900). In other words, what happens with Nylander is a big deal; so big that it could shape the future landscape of this NHL season.

How The Leafs Can Solve This Problem

There are three ways in which Toronto can solve the current problem with at least some degree of success. The best option, of course, is to sign Nylander to a long-term extension at a reasonable price. Of course, that’s easier said than done; if it wasn’t, it would have happened prior to the start of the regular season. Option number two on the totem pole of Toronto’s preferences is to ink a short-term deal. With a window to a Stanley Cup title perhaps not getting any wider than it is this season, simply keeping him around for the 2018-19 campaign before losing him would not be the worst thing in the world. The Maple Leafs can also trade the Calgary native, likely to a rebuilding franchise (otherwise known as “a bad team”) in exchange for a veteran who can help them win now. Nylander’s value is such that Toronto can command a decent veteran piece in return.

What is not going to happen, obviously, is Dec. 1 coming and going with no developments of any kind. The Leafs are too good and their front office is too intelligent to let Nylander become an unrestricted free agent. Moreover, Nylander’s situation—aside from not making as much money as he wants to be making—is too ideal to keep holding out.

The benefits for both parties of getting something done without requiring a trade (option No. 3 on the preference depth chart) are too enticing to pass up. With the 2014 first-round draft pick, Toronto basically features two lines that boast top-line talent. Nylander would take the ice at right wing alongside center Auston Matthews (currently a +500 co-favorite with Alex Ovechkin to lead the NHL in goals), with Patrick Marleau likely holding down the other forward spot. That would bump Kasperi Kapanen down to the second line with center John Tavares and left wing Zach Hyman. The domino effect would thus give the third line a boost, as well, allowing Nazem Kadri to work with Mitchell Marner as his right wing. That is a recipe for goals, goals, and more goals from the first minute through the 60th minutes of games.

Can The Leafs Win Without Him?

Even without Nylander, Toronto is an offensive juggernaut of the highest caliber. It is currently second in the NHL in goals per game (3.8). Four different players have tallied at least 12 points, led by Matthews’ 16 (Marner has 13 and Tavares currently sits at 12). Nylander can only look at all the obvious statistics—and future dollars—that he is passing up by sitting out. You don’t even to be that good to rack up a boatload of stats on a line with Matthews; and Nylander is good. He can be great, in fact, but he’ll have to lace ‘em up sooner rather than later if he wants to continue his rise to stardom.

A long-term contract seems unlikely at this point, as the sides aren’t close and the Leafs may need to save money down the road to extend the likes of Matthews and Marner. But a short-term deal should get done. It would enhance Toronto’s very realistic Stanley Cup bid and it would allow Nylander to put up the kind of numbers that would eventually garner him the kind of deal he wants—albeit somewhere else.

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