As trade talks circulate, but no deal — either to be moved or signed — is imminent, greater pressure is placed on what happens with William Nylander as the new season for the Toronto Maple Leafs approaches. The pressure on the forward and the team is palpable if he remains unsigned by the organization and the question arises: how will his performance and value be affected by his play in the upcoming campaign? Nylander will undoubtedly face constant scrutiny from the media and the team, creating a high-pressure environment. In the face of all of that, can he have a monster season when the pressure is at its peak?
Meanwhile, the franchise will be asked over and over what the long-term plan for the winger will be. Trade talks will hang over the season like a black cloud ready to unleash a disastrous storm.
A significant concern surrounding Nylander’s contract situation is the possibility of him finishing his contract with the Leafs and then exploring free agency. That would be a huge loss for the Leafs, but there’s talk that the team might be considering that calculated risk, simply because having him in the lineup this season improves their playoff chances. Erik Duhatschek of The Athletic suggested that letting Nylander play out his contract would be an alternative to trading him for an underwhelming return, and the reality is, it would put the onus on Nylander to perform in order to secure a lucrative upcoming deal.
A strong season from the winger is good for Toronto, even if he’s inevitably destined to leave. And, in the end, if he signs elsewhere, it would free up valuable cap space for the Leafs to allocate as they see fit, rather than relying on trades. Having said that, watching him walk for nothing isn’t easy, even if the Leafs make a long playoff run.
But, what happens if the Leafs are looking at a David Pastrnak situation? What happens if Nylander plays extremely well, the Leafs win a lot, he wants to stay, the Leafs want to keep him and everything works out? That scenario is possible.
The Maple Leafs Don’t Want to Make a Bad Trade
The Maple Leafs are keen for Nylander to sign for $9 million, not willing to go beyond that figure. He wants $10 million and herein lies the problem. It’s too much for the Leafs and there’s an appetite for him to prove he’s worth the investment long-term. Hence the reason Brad Treliving is looking at his options on the market.
If contract negotiations reach a stalemate and trade offers do not meet expectations, Nylander could potentially play out the year as an “own rental.” It would be a ballsy play, but it would also be the Leafs taking a stand, showcasing a new business approach by not overspending on a few entitled players. All the while, it shifts the pressure to Nylander.
Nylander possesses franchise-level talent but has yet to consistently perform at that level. In the right environment, he could unlock his full potential. Is the uncertainty of a massive contract on his next deal the motivation he needs? If it is, and while he ultimately might not be playing in Toronto when that contract is offered, will the Leafs get the benefit of an ultra-energized Nylander until he proves himself? One would hope so.
Letting Him Play Out the Year Is Risky
Allowing Nylander to play out the year without a contract seems risky, yet the optimal period for maximizing his trade value has probably passed. Prior to the free agent signings on July 1st, the Leafs could have potentially dealt Nylander for quality players in other positions. Now, with most teams finalizing their rosters, the Leafs face the challenge of shedding salary without compromising competitiveness.
If the Leafs remain a playoff-bound team, trading Nylander at the deadline would be equally unwise. This leaves the remainder of the offseason to negotiate a deal. However, since the Leafs cannot take on additional salary, their options are limited.
As the clock ticks, the Leafs must carefully navigate the remaining offseason to secure the best possible outcome for Nylander’s contract situation, keeping in mind the team’s long-term goals and maintaining a competitive roster.
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