Whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs have enough cap space to keep Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander together has been a debate amongst the hockey world since John Tavares signed with the Leafs. They do. That being said, Kyle Dubas and co. will need to be patient and try to keep the numbers on the contracts as low as possible.
Nylander, who was tied heavily to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner coming into the season, fell behind a little bit from Matthews and Marner who each had great sophomore seasons. Nylander didn’t fall behind because he underperformed but rather because Matthews and Marner both had significant developments in their game, while Nylander was more or less pretty consistent to the 2016-17 season.
As a result, he’s fallen victim to “which defenceman can we trade Nylander for” speculation. But Nylander isn’t going to be traded unless something dramatic changes. As a reminder, at the trade deadline, Lou Lamoriello said it was “a fair assessment” that there was no chance that Marner or Nylander would be traded in order to acquire Ryan McDonagh. Of course that was Lamoriello, but you have to think Leafs management is on the same page about retaining important pieces. Given that the team doesn’t seem to be willing to part with Nylander in a trade and they have the cap room needed, Nylander is staying put. But he needs a contract and there are a couple routes he could go.
Some have expressed the feeling that Nylander could get a bridge contract, most notably, TSN’s Darren Dreger. Though it’s possible, it’s less common to see a 22-year-old who had back-to-back 61-point seasons take a bridge contract. If in two full seasons, Nylander had drastically different point totals, for example a 45-point season followed by a 7r-point season, then of course he’d bet on himself to score closer to the 75-point range again.
But Nylander had almost identical seasons production-wise and there’s a solid chance he stays in a similar range next year. Of course he could put up better totals, but if he was to under-produce next year, he could bring down the money value for his long-term contract, which is a worst case scenario.
That being said, Nikita Kucherov took a three-year bridge deal worth a little under $5 million after putting up back-to-back 65-point seasons and it’s worked out excellently for him, having recently cashed in on a new 8-year deal that carries a $9.5 million annual cap hit. If Nylander took a bridge, it could be something like a two-year, $4-5 million AAV. However, it’s much more common to see a long-term deal for a player of Nylander’s age and production and though a bridge deal is reasonable and certainly possible, it seems less likely than a long-term deal.
The Long-Term Deal
If Nylander does take a long-term deal, the length would likely fall in the six-year range, give or take a year. This is based both on comparables (shown below) and reason. Six years is a good term for Nylander because it’s inevitable that he’ll be paid more on his next contract, due to the fact that he’ll still be fairly young when it expires and the salary cap will have risen— both positives for Nylander. If he was to take a max-term deal though, the contract would expire when he’s 30 years old, a less appealing age for buyers and one that probably commands less term on his next deal.
Six years is a good range for the Leafs as well because the team isn’t buying many “UFA years” as TSN’s Bob McKenzie puts it. If it’s an eight-year term, Nylander could argue for a higher AAV because he knows if those last two years came as the first two years of a new deal instead, he’d be making more on them, as a result of either the Leafs having to pay more on his next deal to keep him, or a bidding war in free agency.
There have been different reports on what kind of money Nylander is looking for. Lance Hornby wrote that it’s believed Nylander will look for money around the $6.67 AAV on David Pastrnak’s contract. However, in a recent article, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News said “Word around the campfire is that Nylander is hoping for $8 million.”
I think it’s hard to believe Nylander could hope for up to $8 million. Kennedy did note this could just be a starting point for the negotiations, but even so, there are many comparables that would signal him making less than Pastrnak’s $6.67 AAV, let alone a $8 million AAV. An interesting method to predict a contract would be by using the $100k per point rule. For example, in the past, if a player around 60 points consistently, their contract is probably in the $6 million per year range. That’s been blown up since the McDavid signing, but many of the signings that don’t follow it are either centres or players heading into unrestricted free agency, such as Evander Kane and James van Riemsdyk. This could maybe be attributed to the fact that the team is, once again, “buying UFA years”. It’s easy for Kane or van Riemsdyk to argue that another team could pay more and as a result, someone ends up overpaying.
Here are a list of some recent contracts signed (mainly) by wingers around the league, who were coming off of entry-level contracts or bridge deals. It includes the player’s career point-per-82-game season stats up to the point of signing as well as the number of points the player reached, or was on pace for, in the most recent season (82-game average) before signing their contract.
It’s interesting to see that if you find the middle ground between the player’s career point-per-season average and the most recent season’s point total (or 82-game average), the middle ground between the two follows the $100k per point rule closely when it comes to AAV.
|Career Total P/82 (PPG)||Signing Year P/82 (PPG)||‘Middle Ground’||AAV/Term||Signing Year|
|Lindholm||41.2 (0.503)||44.5 (0.543)||42.3||4.85 / 6y||2018|
|Ehlers||54.3 (0.662)||64.0 (0.780)||59.2||6.00 / 7y||2017|
|Pastrnak||58.6 (0.715)||76.5 (0.933)||67.5||6.66 / 6y||2017|
|Drouin||47.5 (0.579)||59.5 (0.726)||53.5||5.50 /6y||2017|
|Gaudreau||73.3 (0.894)||81.0 (0.987)||77.2||6.75 /6y||2016|
|Huberdeau||51.9 (0.632)||63.7 (0.776)||57.8||5.90 /6y||2016|
|Forsberg||59.9 (0.731)||64.0 (0.780)||62.0||6.00 / 6y||2016|
|Trocheck||46.6 (0.568)||57.2 (0.697)||51.9||4.75 / 6y||2016|
|Nylander||59.9 (0.730)||61.0 (0.744)||60.5|
*Nikita Kucherov, who just signed, somewhat relates to the rule. If you take his point totals from the two years of his bridge deal so far, he’s had 185 points in 154 regular season games. This comes out to about 99 points per season average between the two seasons, which falls very close to his $9.5 million cap hit. That being said, lower taxing in Tampa Bay (and Steve Yzerman as the GM) could be a factors for the lower AAV.*
Given the comparables, if Nylander was to sign long-term now, his contract should come in right around $6 million, but a $6.25 million AAV wouldn’t be a stretch either. These comparable contracts have all come when the salary cap was lower though and as you can see, Lindholm, the only 2018 deal on the list, resulted in a bit of an overpayment. That being said, Lindholm is a 1994 birth year, and will be 29 after the contract expires, meaning a couple more UFA years are being bought. Maybe this means the AAV comes in closer to $6.5 million for Nylander. But if Nylander does go long-term, a range of $6 million on the low end and $6.5 million on the high end is a fair range.
Realistically, only a very select group of people know whether Nylander will go for a bridge or a long-term deal and really, that might not even be decided yet. So for now, we’ll just sit here and speculate.