It’s very unlikely Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander will hold out for the entire 2018-19 season, but the first pre-season game is just around the corner and he’ll miss that at least. The Maple Leafs already have made some adjustments, but what will they do if Nylander holds out into the start of the regular season?
Toronto Maple Leafs and Life Without William Nylander
What’s The Problem
There’s been a lot of chatter about Nylander in the media, on Twitter, and probably at many water coolers. The gist of the comments from the Maple Leafs management group and players is that there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just part of the process. And they’re probably right.
There are some conflicting rumours about what the team and player want, as there usually is when players are holding out. What’s most likely is that they both want a long-term deal, but are apart on the money. Nylander may be looking for something between 7-8 million whereas the Maple Leafs are more interested in signing him somewhere between 6-7 million.
It may be coming down to a question of cap hit percentage. If Nylander were to sign for $6.5 million it would be an 8.1 percent cap hit next year. But if he signed for eight years, $6.5 million may only be a 6-7 percent cap hit by year eight, or even lower. Deals that look fair in year one often turn out to be very favourable deals for teams by the time the last few years roll around. Looking at the average cap hit percentage over the life of a contract makes sense. Especially as we see the salary cap grow as much as it has recently and is expected to grow in the future.
The NHL can opt out of the current CBA on Setempber 1, 2019 too. And the CBA is set to expire in 2022. Some consideration from both sides as to what the NHL cap will be like then should be a factor for both sides.
Who Will Play With Auston Matthews Now
Nylander and Auston Matthews have spent the past two years as linemates. A duo considered the most effective pair on the team. They’ve had Zach Hyman with them for the bulk of that time as well. Although Hyman will apparently moving to a line with John Tavares. Replacing Hyman on the left side will be Patrick Marleau, whom Matthews has mentioned he would like to see time with.
So far in training camp, Tyler Ennis has been playing on Matthews’ right side. Ennis has a career 97 goals in 419 games. Playing him with Matthews right now in Nylander’s absence accomplishes a couple things. It gives Matthews a veteran to play with that won’t be the focus of the line. If Andreas Johnsson, for example, had been put up with Matthews on the top line it would have sent the media running for the phones. Ennis is safe from a storyline perspective.
Playing Ennis with Matthews is also a safe move from a negotiating with Nylander perspective. Putting an established goal scorer up with Matthews now could be seen as the Maple Leafs expecting to need a regular season replacement. By using Ennis the Leafs are essentially saying they’re keeping Nylander’s spot warm and expecting him to be there by the time games count. But that’s only going to last so long.
Who Will Play With Auston Mathews Later
If this holdout goes the distance, it’s not likely Ennis will start the regular season on the top line. He may not even make the team. If Nylander is still not signed by October, the first logical choice to play with Matthews is Connor Brown. Brown scored 20 goals as a rookie two seasons ago. He could fit in well with Matthews and Marleau while the team waits for Nylander.
Another player that is looking to find a place with the Maple Leafs is Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen is entering his fourth season with the Maple Leafs. It’s expected he’ll be an everyday player but with Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Brown all fixtures at right wing, where exactly Kapanen will play is one of the bigger questions coming out of this year’s training camp. With Nylander on the ice, Kapanen is fighting for time on the third line with Brown. Neither of those players is a good fit for the fourth line. The Maple Leafs have four top nine wingers on the right side. As long as Nylander remains unsigned, no one needs to worry about being relegated to the fourth line.
Of course, the other option is trading Nylander. Outside of water cooler talk, there’s not much chance of this option being taken seriously. Kyle Dubas has already stated his intentions of signing all three of Marner, Nylander, and Matthews. The Maple Leafs aren’t in a position of strength if they try to trade Nylander now either. Other teams know there is some issue with contract negotiations. They won’t do Toronto any favours.
If the Maple Leafs did want to trade to improve the team, they’d be looking for a defenceman. Historically, defencemen are more valuable on the trade front than forwards. Look at the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. Nylander alone won’t fetch a top pairing defenceman. That’s another reason the Maple Leafs won’t consider trading him.
When He Signs
Most likely Nylander will sign before the regular season starts and he’ll slip right in on the top line. Gone are the days of training camp being used to get players back in shape after a lazy summer. Nylander, along with all NHLers, will come to camp in shape and ready to play. Any rust will shake off in a day or two and he and Matthews will be up to their old tricks in no time.
Whatever the final details of the contract are it will start a whole new set of storylines to follow. Mostly his contract will be the first bit of insight into what Matthews and Marner will sign for. Assuming Matthews and Marner continue to grow, both will end up signing for more than Nylander. And that is probably the biggest reason Nylander remains unsigned now.