The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing a perplexing decision regarding William Nylander’s contract situation. While signing him or trading him may seem like the only viable options, there’s a third path that some Cup hopefuls have taken in similar circumstances – keeping the star player on the roster and competing for the championship. This strategy, although risky, has proven successful for teams like the Boston Bruins with David Pastrnak and the Tampa Bay Lightning with Steven Stamkos.
And, if that doesn’t work, getting one more run out of Nylander as a Maple Leaf might be enough to overlook any potential loss as he heads toward free agency.
Jonas Siegel of The Athletic argues that the risk of Nylander potentially leaving in free agency is outweighed by his contributions during a Stanley Cup chase and the possibility of re-signing him later. Nylander, as the third-best player on the team and a top performer in the playoffs, would undoubtedly bolster the Leafs’ championship aspirations. Last season, he tied Auston Matthews for the team lead in goals and finished 20th in league scoring.
Siegel posed a series of questions, all leading to the conclusion that letting this season ride with Nylander under his deal makes the most sense.
First, there is the question of how the Leafs perceive Nylander’s long-term value. If they see him as a franchise cornerstone, keeping him on the roster for another season with hopes of securing an extension seems like the logical choice. However, if the Leafs have no intention of meeting Nylander’s desired price, they might still choose to retain him in the short term. Exploring a trade is an option, but it must ensure that the team remains competitive next season, considering the challenge of replacing Nylander’s offensive contributions.
Second, losing leverage in extension talks right now is not ideal given the team’s desire to win and the optics of what the salary cap looks like next summer. Nylander won’t be in a rush to give away his opportunity to test the open market next summer. If the Leafs can’t make a compelling offer now, he might prefer to wait until July 1, where his value could increase further based on a strong performance in the upcoming season. The Leafs have just as good a chance, if better, of retaining his services at that time.
Finally, the Leafs are faced with a complex decision that balances immediate competitiveness, cap management, and Nylander’s long-term future. The value of keeping him on the team for another season should be weighed against the potential trade offers and his value on the current contract. Does Toronto take a run at the playoffs and a long run in the postseason, or does it accept a potentially underwhelming trade return simply because the optics of losing a player for nothing aren’t good? The Leafs might be leaning towards the former and taking advantage of Nylander’s incredible skill and possible production at a very team-friendly rate for this season.
Only time will tell what the Leafs choose to do and how Nylander’s value may evolve in the process but it sounds like coming to terms on an extension or a trade for Nylander isn’t the priority in Toronto: winning is. If that means keeping Nylander now and losing him later, that’s a risk the team is willing to take.
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