William Nylander has been a polarizing figure for the Toronto Maple Leafs ever since his drawn-out contract negotiations in 2018-19, and his next contract is already receiving attention in the media.
Nylander has had to put up with a lot of negative perspectives, from both fans and media alike, ever since he signed his current contract on December 1, 2018. He’s been called a player who doesn’t fight along the boards and someone who doesn’t always show up; no matter what the comments have been, they have largely been incorrect and simply used by people disgruntled that a player would have the audacity to seek a fair contract for himself.
Sure, that 2018-19 campaign was a down year for Nylander, who took some time to really get his feet under him, but the years since have shown just how important he is to the Leafs and proven that he is worth every bit of his $6,962,366 cap hit. 31 goals in 68 games during the Covid-shortened 2019-20 campaign, a career-high 34-goal, 80-point campaign in 2021-22, and now this year the super Swede is on pace to eclipse both once again.
After 31 games, Nylander finds himself sitting third in total points on the Leafs with 33, with a team-leading 17 goals to boot. He has been a pillar of consistency this year, stepping up when it’s mattered most, and he has helped to guide the team to second in the Atlantic Division with a 19-6-6 record, playing a key role in the team’s recent 15-game unbroken points stretch. The headlines have obviously been Mitch Marner and his franchise record-breaking run, but Nylander has been a critical part of the team’s success.
So, naturally, some in the media, including those who have previously derided Nylander, are looking at his recent performances and where they once saw a problem on the ice, they’re now seeing one off it. Specifically, in how the Toronto Maple Leafs will be able to afford him when it comes time to negotiate a new deal.
Jonas Siegel and Nick Kypreos recently wrote columns — published in The Athletic and The Star, respectively — looking at Nylander’s performances and the implications they could have on the Leafs in the future. They both took very differing approaches, with Siegel going into great depth over existing player contracts that Nylander could gun for as a comparison while Kypreos took the view that the Leafs would struggle to keep him around when all is said and done.
Regardless of the approach, the issue isn’t one the team needs to consider right this second. Nylander’s contract runs through the rest of the current season as well as the following one, meaning the team will not have to make a long-term decision until the summer of 2024 at the latest. The earliest any decision could be acted upon would be next summer, specifically after July 1st, as that is when Nylander enters his final year and would be eligible to negotiate a new deal with the team.
Auston Matthews’ contract expires at the same time as Nylander’s, while Mitch Marner and John Tavare see their deals come to an end the following year, in 2025. Talking about contract negotiations this far out seems unnecessary at this stage, especially with the future of the salary cap still unclear. There’s potential that by the time Nylander and Matthews’ deals are up, the cap will have increased by at least $5 million. With Marner and Tavares the next year, the cap may have even jumped up around $8-$10 million by that point, meaning the financial projection the team currently has could look very different.
Add to that the fact that Tavares would more than likely be taking a significant reduction in salary, allowing the Leafs to balance out the core trio’s next deals, and things certainly look like they can be managed effectively when it comes time to making those kinds of decisions.
Of course, re-signing Nylander to an acceptable amount will be important for the team, especially if they hope to not tie themselves up to too much money and find the cap isn’t increasing as much as they would hope or expect. However, it seems reasonable to believe that things will play out appropriately and a deal benefitting all parties will be agreed.
Equally, sometimes as fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs it’s difficult to simply enjoy what we have right now. The team is performing exceptionally well, albeit with the regular first-round issues in the post-season, and Nylander is having a career year that should be putting plenty of smiles on faces in the crowd. Perhaps it’s time to just enjoy things as they are and let the future Toronto Maple Leafs, however they look, deal with future problems.
Focus on the present. Enjoy the positive performances from a genuinely talented core that the team were desperate for throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. When this core is eventually split up (whether that’s through trades, free-agent departures, or when all of them are too old to continue playing), it may be a long time before the Leafs get another like it.
Let’s embrace that and enjoy some of the best regular-season hockey seen in the 6ix for the past decade or more. Contract talks, especially those a long way off, can wait.