By the end of this week, the William Nylander contract dispute with the Toronto Maple Leafs will come to an end… One way or another.
After what has felt like an eternity of rumours and speculation from fans and pundits alike, the Leafs and Nylander have until Saturday at 5 pm ET to reach a new contact in order to keep him eligible to play this season.
Despite the Leafs currently tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and sporting one of the NHL’s top offences, the status of Nylander’s contract has hung over the team like a dark cloud.
As the deadline approaches the question is no longer ‘when will an announcement be made?’ but instead is ‘what will the announcement be?’ For fans who have been patiently waiting to see results, there are three endings that they should prepare for.
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1. Nylander stays
The happy ending in this situation is the Leafs and Nylander manage to get a contract done at the last minute. In doing so, the Leafs get one of their top players back for the second half of the season.
While this sounds a bit too good to be true after months of intense negotiations, there are signs pointing to this happening. It started with Mike Babcock hinting to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston last week that Nylander and Auston Matthews could be returning to the lineup in the near future.
Mike Babcock, on how he feels about #leafs at U.S. Thanksgiving: “Obviously ecstatic. Any way you look at it we’ve got off to a good start. We think our team’s going to be better, we have significant pieces not here and they will be here.”
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) November 22, 2018
Then during Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, Johnston reported that the Leafs and Nylander are close to reaching a long-term deal.
“It’s interesting that a six-year deal, even at this late stage with next Saturday’s deadline looming, remains a term that is possible for this deal,” Johnston said.
“I believe that the Nylander side would accept something around $6.9 million — maybe a little bit above, a shave below seven. They have not yet got to that point but they are believed to be rather close.”
If Nylander gets the long-term contract that he’s been asking for from the beginning, the timing of the contract could benefit both himself and the Leafs going forward with the salary cap.
According to Cap Friendly, if a restricted free agent signs their contract after the regular season has started, the cap hit for the first year will be greater than the contract’s annual average. The following years, the cap hit is less than the annual average.
That means that in a long-term contract, the Leafs could pay Nylander significantly more for this season, then have at a lower cap hit for the rest of the contract. That will certainly come in handy next year when the Leafs have to re-sign Matthews and Mitch Marner.
2. He gets traded
As the stand off carried into the regular season, rumours that the Leafs would be willing to trade Nylander have intensified.
But whether the Leafs can get fair market value is another story.
Last week, TSN’s Craig Button suggested that the Leafs should work out a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire forward Brandon Saad. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos has suggested that Toronto should make a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenceman David Savard and forward Josh Anderson.
If this is what the Leafs can get for their top-six forward, then the team should take their chances in re-signing Nylander. Saad is four years older than Nylander and his highest point total is 53 from two years ago, while Nylander is coming off back-to-back 61-point seasons.
Meanwhile, Anderson has totalled 30 points in a season just once in his career and even though the Leafs could use help on defence, at best Savard has been a third or fourth defenceman during his tenure in Columbus.
At the end of the week, if the Leafs end the negotiations thinking they can’t re-sign Nylander, trading him would be something to definitely consider. But the odds of them getting equal return isn’t great.
3. He sits out the season
The third and final option for this situation to end is the most extreme. If the Leafs can’t re-sign Nylander and they don’t have a decent trade in place, GM Kyle Dubas could continue to play hardball and let his star winger sit for the entire 2018-19 season.
Two weeks ago it was reported that the Leafs are comfortable with letting Nylander sit if there is no viable option for the Leafs. We may see if that was a bluff.
If it comes to fruition, this would mark the first time in 18 years that an NHL player has missed an entire season due to contract dispute, back when Michael Peca missed the 2000-01 season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.