William Nylander: Time to Sell?
“We can and we will.”
The quote taken from Kyle Dubas’ interview with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, although optimistic, may not be realistic in a hard cap system. Salary expectations for running mates Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner predictably may be north of $9.5 million and $6.5 million respectively. Add that to the $11 million for John Tavares and the Dubas quote may need to be re-phrased to “we probably shouldn’t and we might not”.
William Nylander and his representative very clearly see the contracts for Matthews and Marner coming down the pipeline and don’t want to be left behind in terms of annual average value. Although a two year bridge deal could work, it appears one or both parties refuse to accept this alternative. While this stand-off is in effect, it’s hard to ignore viable trade partners for the Leafs. A few teams rise to the top of the list:
Anaheim’s forward group is beginning to get a little long in the tooth. Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler have been workhorses in the NHL for years and the physical toll on their bodies is starting to show. Corey Perry was placed on Injured Reserve after knee surgery, Ryan Getzlaf has dealt with lower body injury to start the season and Ryan Kesler’s hip likely remains a concern moving forward. William Nylander seems more than capable of stepping into the Ducks’ top-6 and relieving some of the offensive pressure on young forwards Maxime Comtois, Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom.
Anaheim’s drafting and development of top-4 defenceman has provided them incredible depth over the past few years. Despite trading Sami Vatanen to New Jersey and losing Shea Theodore to Vegas as an expansion related casualty, Anaheim’s defensive core still includes Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Moutour.
Fowler and Lindholm are likely too expensive for the Leafs and frankly not ideal targets as lefties. The name that jumps out is Brandon Montour. The 24 year-old right shot defencemen has 2 more seasons at a cap hit of $3,387,500 and remains a restricted free agent with arbitration rights at the expiration of that contract. He could immediately step in and replace Ron Hainsey on the top pairing and the team wouldn’t have to worry about his next contract until the year after Matthews and Marner are dealt with. By that point Patrick Marleau’s $6,250,000 cap hit will be off the books and the league’s salary cap may be pushed up an extra million or two.
Although the value of William Nylander may be higher than Brandon Montour’s, the difference isn’t extraordinary. Prospects or picks could be included, potentially in the form of Max Jones from the Ducks and a high risk prospect or mid round draft pick from the Leafs. If Anaheim can manufacture enough cap space prior to Corey Perry’s return from knee surgery (whether this season or next), this move would score the Leafs a much needed (cost effective) defenceman and a prospect in return for Nylander.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are an obvious fit for a potential William Nylander deal. They have a ton of cap space and more NHL-calibre defencemen than they know what to do with. A deal with the Canes will, however, fall back on new owner Tom Dundon and his willingness to spend money on big(ger) name players.
With an obvious need on the blueline, let’s take a look at some of the options that the Leafs could target in a deal:
(i) Justin Faulk
Year after year we hear a trade rumour connecting Justin Faulk to one of the many NHL teams looking to obtain a right shot defenceman. With a $4,883,333 cap hit and a contract that expires in two years, Faulk could step into the Leafs’ top-4 as an experienced professional and power-play point man. For a team looking to make a Stanley Cup run this year, Faulk would add much needed depth on the backend. The only question is whether his long term upside is as high as his younger counterparts.
(ii) Haydn Fleury
The 22 year-old former 7th overal pick has the potential to be a top-4 man, albeit with lower offensive statistics than some might want out of a trade for William Nylander.
Haydn Fleury would likely need another year playing restricted minutes but has long term upside and could be signed to a very cheap deal after his ELC winds up. An additional prospect (eg. Janne Kuokannen or Cliff Pu) and 2nd-3rd round pick would need to be attached for the Leafs to even pick up the phone.
(iii) Jake Bean
Much like Fleury above, a trade for Jake Bean is based on long term potential and cap control as opposed to ability to step in and contribute immediately. A package that includes Bean would likely need as much or more than the Fleury scenario above.
3. New Jersey Devils
The Devils unfortunately don’t have much in the way of defencemen to offer the Leafs, however, what they do have is enormous cap space, a range of mid-tier forward prospects and a first round draft pick they would likely part with if they could sign Nylander to a long-term contract.
Although a package with the Devils would be limited in terms of experienced NHL players they could offer, prospects and a 1st round draft pick would be key to this deal. Devils prospects likely available include 2016 12th overall pick Michael McLeod, 2014 30th overall pick John Quenneville and former USA U-20 team captain Joey Anderson.
If the Leafs aren’t offered an NHL defenceman by other suitors, then a New Jersey trade package may be able to net them a bottom six forward, a prospect and a pick.