William Nylander contract deadline: What you need to know about the Maple Leafs' winger

One way or another, the William Nylander contract standoff in Toronto is about to come to an end. It’s been a very drawn out, dramatic process that most people didn’t think would get to this point, but this season’s restricted free agent deadline is approaching and there needs to be a resolution on Saturday if Nylander is to suit up at all this season.

If you haven’t been able to fully keep up with the situation, here’s what you need to know.

Who is William Nylander?

Good place to start. Nylander is a talented 22-year-old winger for the Maple Leafs. Toronto drafted him eighth overall in 2014 and he’s become one of their young pillars in the organization (alongside Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly). In each of his two full seasons as an NHL player, he’s been a 20+ goal scorer and a 60+ point contributor and he has a bright future ahead of him.

Also, his father is former NHLer Michael Nylander, who spent 15 seasons in the NHL with several teams, including the Flames, Blackhawks, Capitals, Whalers, Lightning and Bruins. William’s younger brother, Alex, is in the Buffalo Sabres organization.

How does restricted free agency work? 

With last year serving as his third official NHL season, Nylander completed his entry-level rookie contract and became a restricted free agent. Under the NHL’s restricted free agency rules, his rights still belong to the Maple Leafs but any team in the league can offer him a contract proposal, otherwise known as an offer sheet, with Toronto being given the chance to match any offer (and then sign Nylander at those same terms). If the Leafs were to decline to match offer sheet, Nylander could sign with the other team and that team would have to provide Toronto with compensation in the form of draft picks. 

However, NHL teams barely ever offer sheet RFAs, as it’s considered somewhat of an unwritten rule amongst general managers. A general manager who offer sheets a player could jeopardize his relationship with the opposing GM, thus closing the door to future deals.

Why hasn’t he signed a new contract with the Leafs?

There remains a gap between between what Nylander is asking for on his next contract and what the Leafs are willing to give him. It was initially reported that Nylander’s camp was seeking a long-term deal (possibly around eight-years worth around $8 million annually) and while Toronto also preferred a long-term deal, the team wasn’t comfortable going as high on the yearly payout. 

The Leafs have plenty of cap space but they need to be rather cautious about the way they manage it over the next few years. They just signed John Tavares to a massive seven-year, $77 million deal this offseason and will need to give out new contracts to a number of RFAs next season as well, including Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. 

Nylander and Toronto have reportedly closed the gap over the last few weeks, but they’re apparently still not ready to come to an agreement and put pen to paper. Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported Thursday that there is still hope to get a deal done, but Toronto has reopened some trade talks.

What kind of money is Nylander in line for?

It depends on a number of factors but, if an agreement is reached, it seems likely that he’ll land anywhere between just south of $7 million and just north of $8 million annually. If you look at Nylander’s production through his two full entry-level years (0.75 points per game) and the comparables, there’s a decent baseline to work with. 

Here are some recent examples:

  • David Pastrnak (0.72 points per game), signed in 2017: 6 years, $6.66 million
  • Leon Draisaitl (0.72), signed in 2017: 8 years, $8.5 million
  • Johnny Gaudreau (0.89), signed in 2016: 6 years, $6.75 million
  • Filip Forsberg (0.73), signed in 2016: 6 years, $6 million

Pastrnak used Forsberg’s deal from the year earlier as a baseline for his own RFA negotiations and built on that. Nylander may be looking to do the same with Pastrnak’s deal, which already seems like a bargain considering the way that Pastrnak is playing this season. If Nylander believes he can put up similar numbers, he’ll ask for more. 

Keep in mind that the more years a player asks for during RFA negotiations, the higher the cap hit often is because teams will be buying out prime years. It’s also important to keep in mind that the salary cap will likely be rising in coming years, so contracts have to be adjusted for inflation.

What’s the deadline to sign?

Nylander has to sign a contract by 5 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 1) in order to play this season. If he doesn’t, he’ll be officially ineligible to suit up this year and will have to wait until July 1st to ink a new deal.

Has any RFA sat out a full season before?

Yes, the last player to do it was Michael Peca, who sat out his entire age 26 season in 2000 due to a bitter RFA dispute with the Buffalo Sabres. 

What are options on the table? 

There seem to be four ways in which this situation can work out prior to Saturday’s deadline. 

  • Short-term bridge deal: Nylander and Maple Leafs agree on a shorter contract that bridges him to unrestricted free agency, where he can hit the open market. It would likely be around a three-year deal.
  • Long-term deal: A six to eight-year term would likely be preferred from both sides, but it would come at a hefty price tag.
  • Trade: The Leafs can trade Nylander’s rights (or arrange a sign-and-trade) with another team prior to the deadline.
  • Nothing: If no resolution is reached, the Leafs could commit to letting Nylander to sit out the year and then address the situation later down the line.

How has the holdout effected Nylander’s relationship with the club?

It’s tough to fully know, but there’s reason to believe that the holdout has created an irreparable divide between the two sides. Some believe that Toronto’s success this season without Nylander has proven to Toronto GM Kyle Dubas that the young winger is expendable. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported this week that he believes that the Leafs will trade Nylander before next summer’s draft, regardless of how the RFA standoff ends.

William Nylander contract deadline: What you need to know about the Maple Leafs' winger

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