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The Toronto Maple Leafs came back from the Global Series in Stockholm paying tribute to the late great Hall of Famer Borje Salming, reconnecting with franchise leading scorer Mats Sundin, and with a pair of victories over Detroit and Minnesota, but before, during, and after the event the talk was dominated by the exploits of William Nylander.
The Leafs leading scorer had five points in the two games in his home country (including the game-winner in overtime against the Wild on Sunday), extending his consecutive points streak to 17, which of course focused the conversation on Nylander’s contract status and how much the 27-year-old will make on his new deal.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman indicated on Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast that negotiations between the Leafs and agent Lewis Gross have been quiet intentionally, but furthered the discussion on Monday’s Jeff Marek show, indicating that Nylander’s leverage has improved dramatically since the start of the season and that Toronto had hoped to get the winger signed to an eight-year deal in the “8’s or 9’s”, but he does not think that is realistic any longer.
As has been said many times in this column over the last few months, the Leafs needed to make a decision to either get an agreement done with Nylander during the summer or to trade him with a year remaining on his deal. It was quite apparent that the pressure and emphasis on signing him would increase exponentially during the season, especially if he had a career year, which he is having currently.
Although many would disagree, the Leafs need all of the core four together or to trade one of them for close to equal value to maintain their current status as a Stanley Cup contender. The problem is that Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner all have no move clauses and that trading Nylander would only bring back the return of a high-priced rental, even if Toronto allowed an interested team to negotiate an extension.
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun wrote a column in which a dozen NHL executives were asked what a fair deal for Nylander would be and only one of them said less than $10 million per season, with others going as high as $11+.
The issue before GM Brad Treliving is the same as was a factor of his predecessor Kyle Dubas. Can a Stanley Cup-caliber roster be put together paying more than 50% of your salary cap to four forwards? The answer up to this point has been a resounding no. The Leafs have won one series in that time, with those core players entering or in their prime.
If Treliving has done an internal audit of this club, he has to have come to the same conclusion that most observers have come to over the last few years. The Leafs need to add at least two top-four defensemen to have a legitimate chance at winning a championship and perhaps a #1 goaltender as well, and those adds are next to impossible in 2024-25, with Tavares and Marner on the last year of their current deals and Matthews and Nylander (if they get a deal done) starting theirs.
"Are you going to get the Willy that you have now, or the Willy that we've seen hot and cold over the last 5 years?"@RealKyper, @jtbourne & @SamAMcKee debate if Nylander's motivation will change if he gets a contract extension. #LeafsForever
The odds of the Leafs trading Nylander before the March 8th trade deadline are next to impossible, but if negotiations drag on through December and January, that option has to be considered to avoid Treliving going through a Johnny Gaudreau 2.0 scenario in Toronto. You can see how that situation and the moves forced by his departure have crippled Calgary this season and if Toronto is to avoid history repeating itself, they either have to get Nylander signed to a reasonable deal or get what they can for him before the deadline.