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Miscellaneous Leaf Thoughts: NYLANDER

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
  1. He’s back! I think the sad separation from our Swedish son has made Leaf fans forget exactly how good William Nylander is at the hockey thing. Or they’ve gotten so pissed at the drawn-out water torture of the longest RFA negotiation this decade that they just don’t want to give him much credit. Lemme help with that.

Any stat site can tell you that Nylander is one of the best young players in the NHL. There’s a reason why every other fanbase was salivating at the prospect of swiping him away. It’s because he’s really fucking good. The Leafs now have more weapons than the Q lab. This is a good thing.

2. I’m not having this shit.

Nope!

I am not having it. I am not standing still for a lecture from the guy who drove our team headfirst into the pavement about how paying for talent is a mistake. Brian Burke’s most memorable contract negotiations are that he gave a big UFA deal to Mike Komisarek and an actual written agreement to Brett Lebda. His winning a few trades helps move his Leaf record from cataclysmic to merely awful, but I wouldn’t trust the guy to manage a piggy bank, and I absolutely do not trust that he would have done anything other that royally fuck up the Nylander negotiation like he fucked up so much else. And I gotta tell you: I’m really sick of execs and writers whose recent time around the Leafs has been error after mistake after failure coming out to brand a win as a loss.

3. Because it’s a win!

The Leafs are attempting to contend right now. Contending involves maximizing the amount of talent on your team at once.

Managing the salary cap, as important as it is, is a means to an end. The only utility of the money you save is that you can use the money to spend on more talent, so that in the end your team is as strong as possible. It isn’t enough to declare that William Nylander is the sixth-best player or whatever as if it’s an unalterable law of the universe that you would never pay such a player. You have to show how you get a better roster without him. Who do you trade him for? Who do you spend the money on? Knowing Brian Burke I assume he would hand it to Tyler Myers next summer. Between that and Dubas, I know whose strategy I like better.

The fact that the Leafs are a contender does mean that Nylander had more leverage than, say, Nazem Kadri in 2016 (when the team had just finished last). Kyle Dubas didn’t “sell the farm” — this wasn’t a Draisaitl deal. He held a line where he could and came to a fair deal in the circumstances. (For what it’s worth, Matt Cane’s salary projections, which are generally quite good, had this deal as very slightly cheaper than expected).

4. Dick measuring. Pride is a big thing in negotiations, especially as you get more set in your position and frustrated with the other side. We’re all prone to it to some extent. It’s easy to get annoyed when you think the other party is being unreasonable—to throw up your hands and say “fuck it, we’re not giving them another dime!” I think half of Leafs Twitter felt this way by the end of it.

This was also the only way this could really go wrong. Sitting out for a full year would have been a brutal waste for both the Leafs and Nylander. The smart thing was, in the end, to come back around and sign something; not to get personal, but to keep an eye on the prize. That’s what Kyle Dubas did.

You know what would have screwed this up? Trying to win a negotiation more than trying to win a Cup. I’ve slagged on Burke a bit here, and to be fair to him, he’s had successes to put up against his failures (I wish more of the former had been in Toronto). But another thing he has is an ego. When the final call from Nylander came at 4:30 PM, it would only have taken one spasm of pride, of desire to show the other side who’s boss, to blow past the five o’clock deadline. Kyle Dubas didn’t make that mistake. And it’s why I think this negotiation—far from giving the farm away—is a testament to Dubas’ ability to be patient and keep a cool head. It’s why he can rightly chalk this up as a win. He could, and he did.

5. Talent ain’t cheap. All of this isn’t to say there won’t be pain upcoming, salary-wise. There’s a strong chance the Leafs’ defence is going to be worse next season than it was this one, because it’s going to be tough to retain Jake Gardiner without making another move. That’s the business. Good players cost more after their ELCs end.

You can also quite rightly say the squeeze is much more about Patrick Marleau’s salary than William Nylander’s, or that it’s partly a function of Mitch Marner earning himself an enormous raise. There’s always roster churn, and building a consistent contender isn’t painless. The real pain comes from the team losing talent when it doesn’t have to.

6. Lewis Gross. This one might not be popular, but: Nylander’s rep Lewis Gross has most definitely improved his standing as a player agent.

I know, a lot of people want to blame him for how long this took to get done. He is responsible for some of that! He also got a good deal for his client, and he’s shown credibility in terms of his willingness to go further than any previous RFA negotiation under this CBA. If I’m an upcoming RFA and I want to send the message to a team that I’m not messing around, well, I might think long and hard about hiring Lewis Gross.

This doesn’t gibe for some people. They want a negotiation to have a winner and a loser. If Dubas won, Nylander (or his agent, who people have no reason to like) must have lost. Or vice versa. That isn’t the way the world works, though. It’s possible for two sides to play their hands well and eventually find an agreement that’s better for both than the alternative. That’s what happened here. Save the win/loss analysis that for deals with an obvious loser, like the Lucic contract.

7. Our team is good and getting better. The Leafs are not perfect, as evidenced by their messy win in Minnesota Saturday night. They rely too much on their (excellent) goalie and their (awesome) power play. We’d like them to tighten up and get better at stopping the cycle.

Still. This team has more talent up front than any Leaf team ever. We’re finally going to see it all together. After a few months (and half this article) focusing on contract implications, we now get to watch what ought to be one hell of a hockey team. This is a hell of a time to be a Leafs fan.

Ain’t it, Willie?