There is confirmation this week that Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving has finally made it to Arizona to meet with Auston Matthews. Don't expect him to come home with an agreement on an extension for July 1. This is just the first stage of getting to know the Leafs star centre (I'm talking like a sports reporter here, because apparently the fact Matthews is a star needs to be said).
Meanwhile there's been a couple of reports that the Leafs are happy to re-sign William Nylander, something that the general zeitgeist would have had you think was unlikely a month ago. Most casual comments from hockey opinionists have been that the Leafs were going to let Nylander walk as a cost-cutting measure to afford the big salaries later. To put that in its proper wording, that they'd sacrifice him to pay Mitch Marner.
There's some reasonable logic behind this. If the Leafs were to move on from one of their five highly paid players, Nylander is the one that would return some value because his last contract was dead on for his value. His skillset fits on any team, and he's coming off a great year that would see his value at its peak. His contract history – despite the signing on December 1st business – is one of a player taking an old-fashioned term deal without any onerous no-move clauses. He is Mr. Easy Going, and once you get past the bizarre prejudice held by some that leads them to invent a playing style wholly unlike what he really does on the ice, he's a valuable forward – top line on most teams.
All of that is, of course, why the Leafs should be re-signing him on July 1. Maybe they will! Maybe he'll be the first of the big deals to get done. So, what if he goes for it? What would a contract look like for Nylander that would take him toward retirement?
Update: Chris Johnston ruined this article, ruined it! By actually making this exact case for an AAV and a deal to come for Nylander before anyone else on his podcast thing today:
Approximately 26 minutes in is where this discussion happens.
Now back to the article:
I say retirement for a reason. Nylander is 27, and his new deal would take effect two months after his 28th birthday. If he were to sign another term deal for seven or eight years this time, he'd be 35 to 36 when it ended. I don't know, nor does anyone else, if Nylander wants another long-term deal, but it fits with his no-bother lifestyle. He lives in Toronto, he jaunts around the world with his brother and their friends from the old days, he plays well on the Leafs, and the Leafs play a style that isn't perfect for him, but it's damn close. Why mess with that?
I believe that Nylander's "hold out" over his last contract was caused by the Leafs wanting someone to take a pay cut for the "good of the team". And Nylander didn't see why that should be him. So assuming he still thinks that, I don't think the Leafs are getting a bargain, but they might get a very fair deal that turns into a comfortable one as the player ages.
There's no contract projections yet for players who are UFA in 2024 at Evolving Hockey, so instead, I thought I'd try out their player similarity tool. It does not have the most current year's data in it, but it gives players of a similar age with similar results (no, not just points). I picked the names at the top who are reasonably recent, and what I get is therefore players most like Nylander prior to this season, and not yet at their big UFA contract age.
- Mika Zibanejad age 22-24 in 2015-2018 - made between $2.625 million (all cap hits are in millions) and $5.35 before signing a term deal at 29 for $8.5 which was 10.3% of the cap.
- Aleksander Barkov age 24-26 in 2019-2022 - made $5.9 million before signing a term deal at 27 for $10 which was 12% of the cap.
- Filip Forsberg age 25-27 in 2019-2022 - made $6 before signing a term deal at 27 for $8.5 or 10.3% of the cap.
- Max Pacioretty 23-25 in 2012-2015 - made $1.625 to $4.5 before signing a short deal some years later at 31 for $7 or 8.5% of the cap.
- Tyler Toffoli 23-25 in 2015-2018 - made $3.25 to $4.6 before signing a short deal at age 28 for $4.25 or 5.2% of the cap.
- Anders Lee 25-27 in 2015-2018 - made $3.75 before signing a term deal for $7 at age 29 or 8.5% of the cap.
Jesper Bratt, who rates close by this tool to Nylander's 2018 to 2021 seasons, just signed for eight years at $7.875 million (while I was typing this) which is 9.4% of the current official projection for next year's cap. Bratt is 24, so this is largely equivalent to the deal for Nylander that is just ending. Meaning New Jersey may have got a bargain if Bratt continues on as Nylander has – no guarantees.
The other lesson here is to get Tyler Toffoli now. He's always been a bargain and Nylander can play left wing just fine.
Nylander's contract which is ending with an AAV of $6,962,366, was 8.75% of the cap when it was signed. (It's a complicated AAV because it was signed late, but that's close enough.)
So what does this tell us? Pacioretty's contract history is odd, and not very helpful, and Toffoli is grossly underpaid. The rest of these players who most resemble Nylander are paid at 10% or a bit above on term deals signed at about the same age. The official cap projection for 2024-2025, when a Nylander extension would begin is $87.5 million, so the AAV on a Nylander deal at full term should be expected to be at least $8.75 million. And even $9 million is more likely since the projection for the cap the following year is $92 million.
That's the deal I expect to see: seven years and something near $9 million. Maybe eight. Now go listen to CJ say the same thing.
(Dear Brad: Tyler Toffoli, you know you want to.)