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The Onus Of Nylander’s Contract Negotiation Is On Shanahan and Lamoriello, Too

The Toronto Maple Leafs should not be in this situation.

During the second intermission of last night’s game, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Leafs had formally begun asking teams to begin submitting their offers for RFA William Nylander. Friedman followed up the on-air breaking news with this tweet:

While Friedman also noted on-air that Leafs GM Kyle Dubas refused to comment on the matter, what else can we be left to believe?

We are 19 days away from William Nylander’s camp either coming to an agreement with the Leafs on a deal, or the RFA winger being shipped out of town – or at the very least sitting out the remainder of the 2018-19 season. One’s first instinct when examining the current nature of this predicament might be to point fingers at the new Leafs GM who, up until this point, has managed under the absolute promise of retaining the Leafs’ three young stars as the team enters into the window of contention.

Does Kyle Dubas deserve flak for entering into his tenure speaking in absolutes, and coming up empty-handed thus far? Probably, yes. Nylander is the only RFA still holding out, and with seemingly endless comparables having inked deals in recent years, it’s hard to wrap your head around what could be delaying these negotiations well into November.

And yet here we are.

Where Is “Here”?

In order to better understand the current situation, it might be wise to look beyond the scope of what’s happened since Kyle Dubas became Leafs GM. If we look back to the offseason of 2017, the context of this current monetary battle becomes much clearer.

May 2, 2017:

The Leafs signed Nikita Zaitsev to a seven-year contract with an AAV of $4.5M per season. By the Leafs, we mean former Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello.

One of Lou’s parting gifts to the Leafs, Zaitsev has quickly transitioned to a bit of a boat anchor on the Leafs’ cap – and that’s even with his marginal improvements this season. Sure, Mike Babcock loves him, but Nikita Zaitsev caps out as probably a fifth of sixth defenseman, and is currently playing over 20 minutes a night on the second pairing.

Surely you would like to have been able to justify overpaying Nylander by maybe a million dollars worth of that Zaitsev contract, no? Ah, well.

July 2, 2017:

Three years for a 38-year old Patrick Marleau at $6.25M per season is pretty shocking, and is even more so when you consider the Leafs knew they were heading for a cap crunch with their young stars due for their first negotiable deals.

Sure, Marleau put up an impressive 27 goals and 20 assists in his 38-year old season, but how long did the Leafs seriously believe that could keep up? And at his cap hit, is that even enough?

Marleau has been ice cold for the Leafs this season, notching just three goals through 17 games despite consistent top-six minutes. He’s on pace for 14 goals on the season.

Surely you could have overpaid a 22-year old William Nylander with some of that money to get a deal done, no?

October 3, 2018:

With the 2018-19 season about to get underway, Brendan Shanahan delivered this message directed towards William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs’ young core. At the time, the quote was lauded as a show of commitment to fitting the Leafs’ stars under the cap.

On further examination, however, the quote fails to hold up as anywhere relatable to the Leafs’ current situation – or the NHL’s – in 2018.

The Red Wings maintaining their championship cores on “haircuts” is nice, sure, until you stop and consider the implications of contracts and inherent value in a league without a salary cap. Contract negotiations, contract hyperfocus – these were different animals, and Shanahan should damn well know that. In delivering such a manifesto, Shanahan was not drawing a comparison as much as he was seemingly flat-out ignoring the changed nature of the NHL since his playing days. Taking haircuts in a day where rich teams’ infinite wealth is inherently limited simply does not bear the same monetary worth, and is much harder to actually accomplish than it is to dream up under idealism. Looking at the nature of almost every contract negotiation, and the ways by which we ascribe value to hockey players not based on their on-ice performance as much as to some combination of that performance and the perpetually present cap hit, it’s hard to imagine that these valuations are not also engrained in players’ heads. William Nylander grew up in the cap world; now, he plays in it. Or at least, he wants to, and he wants his money’s worth.

Here

And yet today, we look to Kyle Dubas, with our questions and our befuddlement and our furstrations. We wait for news; for travel information; for trade rumors – for anything.

There’s a strong chance we may never know who is most responsible for today’s holdup. Whether Nylander’s camp is truly demanding the sun and the moon, or whether Dubas simply will not budge from a catastrophically low number may never be revealed to us.

What we do know is that the Leafs brass – past and present – is not blameless in creating a less-than-rosy current context in which Kyle Dubas must work. The Toronto Maple Leafs should not be in this situation, and yet they are.

So now, we wait.

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  • leafdreamer

    2 more points you haven’t mentioned:

    1) The whole ‘use your time when you have it’ mantra that Lou left for Dubas to follow may have been the worst advice the young GM has ever received; on the contrary – the deals with the young stars should have been done as soon as possible – all three should have been signed by now and would have given us way better terms than they are likely to the longer we wait;

    2) Babcock has not treated Nylander with the same respect as the other two (or his other players) criticizing him publically on many occasions. I’m not sure he even wants him on the team and I seriously wonder if Nylander wants to play for Babas and if his holding out isn’t an attempt to force a trade.

  • tyhee

    Shanahan’s quoted comments pretty clearly envisage asking the players to take less than market value to keep the group together.

    This isn’t going to be a popular viewpoint but I don’t think you’re going to get that kind of loyalty from your young players when you add high-priced long term free agents above them in the lineup so that you don’t have room to pay them. That means not only Zaitsev and Marleau, but the very popular Tavares signing.

    Tavares is an exceptional player. Otoh, when he is brought in from outside the organization and paid $15.9 million this season and next, and when Marleau is brought in and paid $6.25 million despite his age making it unlikely he’ll continue to produce at his previous level, it is easy for a young player to wonder why he should accept less than full market value when players being brought in from outside aren’t taking a haircut to join the group?

    Of course, we don’t really know what Nylander is being offered nor what he’s asking for. This isn’t really a shock, though-the first thing I wondered when it was reported the Leafs were close to signing Tavares was how the negotiations with the three young stars would be affected.

  • Bob

    Um , just have a little more patience and it will be resolved soon. The Leafs are just taking advantage of that “unfortunate” penalty of signing a player late and taking a huge cap hit the first year which lowers the remaining years cap hit . Its a great thing the Leafs left a huge amount of cap space open at this time by accident and need a lower cap hit in the future. I’m sure this will be changed in the next CBA but until then the guys that wrote the thing who happen to now be employed by the Leafs will have to take their “punishment” in stride.