PLENTY OF TEAMS COVET PLAYER WITH NYLANDER’S SKILL
Oilers, Canucks, Preds among eight clubs that could help fill Leafs’ void on blue-line
Five games into the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are scoring goals at a historic pace. And they are doing it without William Nylander.
For the Leafs, this means one of two things: They will be an even deadlier offensive team when the 22-year-old eventually signs an extension, or they don’t need him in the lineup as much as they thought they would.
Toronto, led by Auston Matthews’ league-leading nine goals and Morgan Rielly’s 12 points, is 4-1-0 without Nylander. In his absence, Kasperi Kapanen has emerged as a near-perfect substitute on the top line.
In other words, the Leafs don’t really miss Nylander as much as he probably misses them. But they could still use him, even if GM Kyle Dubas is ready to move on without him.
While the Leafs’ offence is clicking, their defence remains a work in progress. The team, which had to score its way out of trouble against Chicago and Dallas, is giving up four goals per game. Nylander cannot help that stat, unless the Leafs flip him to another team for a defenceman.
It’s not something Dubas wants to do, because it sets a bad precedent for future restricted free agents. But if done properly — along the lines of the Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones trade rather than the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade — it could benefit the Leafs in a way Nylander’s return wouldn’t.
Here are eight teams that might be interested in acquiring Nylander and have something Toronto would be interested in:
Why they need him: The Coyotes, who have been shut out in two of their three games, cannot seem to score. Put Nylander in their lineup and that changes dramatically. Who knows, he might even revive Dylan Strome’s career. What they could offer: Jakob Chychrun, who is out with an injury, is not a polished defenceman by any means. But he’s 20 years old, was a first-round pick in 2016, and scored seven goals and 20 points two years ago as a rookie. With his size and skating ability, he’s got top-two potential.
Why they need him: Trading Jeff Skinner to Buffalo for a package of prospects and picks essentially took 25-30 goals out of Carolina’s lineup. Nylander, who reached the 20-goal mark in back-to-back seasons, would replace that offence and more.
What they could offer: The Hurricanes parted with defenceman Noah Hanifin in a trade with the Flames, but they still have options on defence. The most obvious one is Justin Faulk, a right-handed shot who logs a ton of minutes and is still relatively young. Of course, Toronto’s analytics department is probably far more interested in 23-year-old Brett Pesce.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Why they need him: Artemi Panarin looks like he won’t be re-signing with the Blue Jackets, meaning there could be a serious need for a high-scoring winger to play alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois or Alexander Wennberg.
What they could offer: The Leafs could take Panarin back in a onefor-one trade, but the player that suits their needs even more is a defenceman. Columbus has a lot of them, with Zach Werenski the most appealing. The 21-year-old, who played alongside Auston Matthews with the U.S. national program, was the eighth overall pick in 2015. And he’s coming off a year where he scored 16 goals — second-most among NHL defencemen.
Why they need him: Connor McDavid needs a wing man who can shoot the puck. Nylander, who had 205 shots while playing mostly with Auston Matthews last season, can do that no problem.
What they could offer: It would be funny if the Oilers offered Adam Larsson. After all, GM Peter Chiarelli acquired the stayat-home defenceman two years ago in exchange for Taylor Hall. Then again, Darnell Nurse seems a more reasonable fit, especially since Dubas initially drafted him when he was general managers of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.
Why they need him: While the Predators’ defence is among the best in the league, their forward unit could use an upgrade. Nashville didn’t have a 30-goal scorer last season or anyone in the top 50 in points.
What they could offer: You’re not getting Roman Josi and P.K. Subban’s contract might be too rich. Mattias Ekholm can log big minutes, chip in goals and help Toronto on the penalty kill. But if the Leafs want a right-handed shot to play with Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner, 27-year-old Ryan Ellis could be a nice addition.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Why they need him: Losing John Tavares took a point-per-game forward out of the Islanders’ lineup. And though Nylander might be better suited as a winger, he has played centre and could slot in nicely behind Mathew Barzal. Either way, the Lou Lamoriello connection means Dubas has probably been answering his calls in the last two weeks.
What they could offer: The Islanders selected two blue-chip defencemen in this year’s draft (Noah Dobson, 12th overall, and Bode Wilde, 41st), who could be a year or two away from NHL duty. But the player the Leafs would likely target is 24-year-old defenceman Ryan Pulock, a 2015 first-round pick who scored 10 goals and 32 points as a rookie last season.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Why they need him: The Rangers are rebuilding and could use all the help they could get. Nylander would instantly be the team’s best forward, playing centre or wing.
What they could offer: The Rangers want to unload Kevin Shattenkirk’s $6.65-million cap hit, especially since he’s been a healthy scratch this season. But there’s no chance of that happening. Instead, 24-year-old Brady Skjei has the size (six foot three and 214 pounds), skill (one goal and one assist in four games) and cap-friendly contract (six years at $5.25 million annually) Toronto covets.
Why they need him: Adding Nylander to a roster that already includes Elias Pettersson could give Vancouver the second coming of the Sedins. At the very least, it would speed up the rebuild.
What they could offer: This is a tough one. Chris Tanev, who played alongside Rielly at the 2016 World Championships, might be too old and too banged up. And seventh-overall pick Quinn Hughes has far too much potential for the Canucks to give up at this time. Would the Leafs want to take a chance on Olli Juolevi, a fifth-overall pick in 2016 who has yet to play a game in the NHL? Or could Erik Gudbranson be a starting point?