The Ny­lan­der co­nun­drum

No right and wrong in con­tract stale­mate be­tween Leafs and for­ward

The Expositor (Brantford) - - SPORTS - STEVE SIM­MONS

Wil­liam Ny­lan­der may be stub­born and un­mov­ing in his con­tract snafu with the Maple Leafs, but he’s not nec­es­sar­ily wrong.

Kyle Dubas, the gen­eral man­ager, may be stub­born and un­mov­ing in this dis­pute with Ny­lan­der, but he and the Maple Leafs may not nec­es­sar­ily be wrong in how they have pro­ceeded to date in this grow­ing stale­mate with their young for­ward.

And therein is the real dif­fi­culty of this con­tract co­nun­drum for the Leafs.

There is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad guy here. There is not nec­es­sar­ily a side act­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately. If you lis­ten hard enough to ei­ther side — and both aren’t say­ing much — there is no one be­ing ter­ri­bly un­rea­son­able.

But there are two opin­ions, ab­so­lutely wide apart, get­ting no closer to con­clu­sion, and no one yet seems will­ing to blink first — and some­one will have to blink for this to end.

The Leafs have looked to sign Ny­lan­der for some­where be­tween $6 mil­lion and $7 mil­lion a year, long-term, money rang­ing some­where be­tween $42 mil­lion and $56 mil­lion over the length of how­ever long the deal will be. Lifechang­ing money for Ny­lan­der and his fam­ily — and if the money is han­dled in­tel­li­gently and prop­erly over the next eight years, it will be life-al­ter­ing money for Ny­lan­der now and for his fam­ily long af­ter he is gone. So how do you say no to that? That’s what the Leafs are won­der­ing, watch­ing this team score at will in the early sea­son, miss­ing Ny­lan­der’s skill but not miss­ing a beat, it seems, of­fen­sively. There’s no real pres­sure point for the Leafs as the Dec. 1 dead­line ap­proaches.

The pres­sure, when Novem­ber be­gins, shifts sharply in the di­rec­tion of Ny­lan­der.

Ny­lan­der is look­ing for at least $8 mil­lion a sea­son. On the sur­face, that seems like a reach. But big­ger­pic­ture, over a pos­si­ble seven-year term, that’s about a $7 mil­lion dif­fer­ence from what he wants and what the Leafs will even­tu­ally sign him for. Half of that goes to taxes in a tax-heavy coun­try, which, over the length of this hy­po­thet­i­cal seven-year deal, is a dif­fer­ence of $3.5 mil­lion.

Will Ny­lan­der’s life change if he’s made $45.5 mil­lion, for ex­am­ple, in­stead of $49 mil­lion, with an­other con­tract to sign af­ter this one? This may be dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to a 22-year-old with con­fi­dence and a be­lief in his skill set. This may be dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend for an agent work­ing hard for his three per cent. But in a more global view, it’s some­thing Ny­lan­der should prob­a­bly con­sider.

Here’s the per­sonal part for Ny­lan­der or any­one else in his kind of sit­u­a­tion. You have to live with the deal you sign. You may love it on the day you put pen to pa­per — Nikita Kucherov did that with his bridge deal in Tampa Bay and wound up re­sent­ing it — but if Ny­lan­der signs some­where be­low $7 mil­lion a year, the dy­namic in the Maple Leafs dress­ing room may be chal­lenged in the fu­ture.

This is part of the per­sonal dif­fi­culty for Ny­lan­der and the Leafs. The club has a tem­plate of some sort sit­ting on as­sis­tant GM Bran­don Prid­ham’s desk, pro­ject­ing fu­ture salaries and fu­ture salary-cap lev­els not just for next sea­son and the year af­ter,but for years to come.

Af­ter the Ny­lan­der ne­go­ti­a­tion, there are deals to be made with Mitch Marner and Aus­ton Matthews. Each deal, in a way, af­fects the oth­ers.

And if you’re Ny­lan­der and you sign long-term at $6.8 mil­lion, for ex­am­ple, which is above mar­ket value for him un­der to­day’s salary struc­ture in the NHL, how do you feel when Marner signs for $9 mil­lion a year next sea­son — these num­bers are as­sumed and es­ti­mated — or Matthews comes in above John Tavares at around $12 mil­lion in the fu­ture?

Marner and Ny­lan­der are fas­ci­nat­ing points of com­par­i­son, even with a year’s dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. Both were rea­son­ably early first-round draft picks. In two full sea­sons, Marner scored 41 goals with the Leafs; Ny­lan­der scored 42. In two sea­sons, Marner has ac­cu­mu­lated 89 as­sists, eight more than Ny­lan­der, with sig­nif­i­cantly more power-play time. Ny­lan­der scored 49 even-strength points last sea­son, more goals than Marner, and also more as­sists.

In Year 1 of the post-sea­son, in the play­off se­ries against Wash­ing­ton, Ny­lan­der was dan­ger­ous, Marner not so much. Last April against Bos­ton, Marner was dan­ger­ous, Ny­lan­der rather in­vis­i­ble.

Marner is clearly trend­ing ahead of Ny­lan­der, but not sig­nif­i­cantly ahead.

The ques­tion then be­comes: Can Ny­lan­der live in an NHL cli­mate sur­rounded by play­ers he con­sid­ers to be some­what equals — al­though Matthews is putting that con­ver­sa­tion to rest — mak­ing sig­nif­i­cantly more money than him?

That would gnaw at some. Oth­ers would be se­cure enough in their own cir­cum­stance to not let it bother them.

We don’t know yet where Ny­lan­der fits on that scale. We don’t know how this will end, or when. This isn’t a hold­out, as many have termed it to be. You can’t hold out from a con­tract that isn’t signed.

This is a stale­mate. Two sep­a­rate is­lands and, as of Thurs­day af­ter­noon, no one mov­ing in any di­rec­tion at all.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

The Toronto Maple Leafs Wil­liam Ny­lan­der cel­e­brates a goal against the Bos­ton Bru­ins dur­ing the 2018 NHL play­offs. The Leafs and Ny­lan­der re­main at a stale­mate with re­gards to the for­ward’s con­tract. Ny­lan­der is thought to be ask­ing for at least $8 mil­lion a sea­son, the Leafs are thought to be of­fer­ing be­tween $6 mil­lion and $7 mil­lion.

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