That sound William Nylander hears is the clock ticking.
With nearly six weeks of the NHL campaign in the books, Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs remain at a contract impasse. A restricted free agent, the 22-year-old has made his demands clear to Toronto, and while the Maple Leafs have returned with offers of their own, neither side appears all that willing to budge. Nylander, it has been reported, could be looking for something similar to the deal signed by Edmonton Oilers youngster Leon Draisaitl, which is an eight-year contract carrying a cap hit upwards of $8 million. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have reportedly been unwilling to budge from the $6 million
So, the clock continues to tick. Where once there was a two-month window for Nylander to put pen to paper on a deal, which became one month just shy of two weeks ago, has now become a window of just 19 days.
By the rules laid out by the collective bargaining agreement, if Nylander doesn’t have a contract in place by Dec. 1, he will be ineligible to play in the NHL this season. The clause in question is 11.4 of the current CBA, which states that a standard player contract for a Group 2 free agent — in Nylander’s case, a player who signed his first deal between ages 18 and 21 with three years experience in the AHL and/or NHL — “will be rejected and will be null and void” if not signed by 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 1.
And with Nylander’s window closing, and the potential for his trade value to tank if he spends an entire campaign on the sidelines, there appears to be some movement towards what was once an unthinkable scenario for the Maple Leafs: a trade involving Nylander, who has long been considered a pillar of the future in Toronto.
Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Maple Leafs have asked teams interested in acquiring Nylander to determine which players would be unavailable in a swap and indicated that a formal offering process for the winger may begin in the not-too-distant future. And given moving Nylander has been seen as the nuclear option for Toronto over the past several weeks leading up to the CBA-imposed signing deadline, that the Maple Leafs are seemingly willing to explore the option suggests that the next time we see the smooth-skating, playmaking winger, he could be wearing a different uniform.
Which teams could step up and make a play for the winger, though? Keep an eye on these five clubs.
It’s been the most clear-cut destination since rumors were first floated about a potential Nylander trade, and it could be argued that no swap would make greater sense for both sides, particularly if we’re to buy into the idea that the Maple Leafs are looking for an upgrade on the blueline. The Hurricanes have an abundance of defensemen, some who could arguably take on a great role, and with their need for some additional scoring punch, making a play for Nylander, a legitimate 60-point player with some untapped potential, seems a no-brainer.
Who would make the deal work for the Maple Leafs, though? Chances are Jaccob Slavin and recently acquired Dougie Hamilton are no-gos when it comes to trade acquisitions. That means the most likely blueliners on the move would likely be Brett Pesce or Justin Faulk, who are 24 and 26, respectively. Both can skate big minutes and provide some offense, and either would be able to slot into the top four in Toronto.
Regardless of the interest in Faulk or Pesce, if that is in fact who the Maple Leafs would pursue in a Nylander deal with the Hurricanes, Carolina would likely have to sweeten the pot with additional players, prospects or possibly picks. A young scorer of Nylander’s ilk is a highly sought after commodity, and he won’t come cheap.
Los Angeles Kings
No team is as desperate to inject speed and skill into their lineup as the Kings. Offensively, Los Angeles has been the NHL’s worst team as we approach the six-week mark of the campaign. The Kings have the fewest goals for in the league (33), are scoring at the lowest per-game rate (2.06) and have only one player with more than 10 points (Ilya Kovalchuk, 14). Truly, it’s been a disastrous start to the season in Los Angeles, and it’s undoubtedly time for the Kings to shake up their lineup, which is something GM Rob Blake hinted could be on the horizon last weekend following the firing of coach John Stevens.
Nylander seems the perfect candidate to infuse the attack with some life, too. He has many of the attributes the team should be seeking — speed, puck skill and scoring touch — and it comes with the added bonus of youth. The Kings have the second-highest average age of any team in the NHL, and they need to start thinking about their future. Offloading a skilled, steady veteran defenseman with championship pedigree might intrigue the Maple Leafs, and Alec Martinez, 31, or Jake Muzzin, 29, might fit the bill without being so advanced in age that they’re unattractive additions.
The inherent risk in acquiring Nylander would be dealing another high pick, which Los Angeles has done far too often in an effort to keep their championship window cracked open. The contention could be made that moving a pick for a 22-year-old as talented as Nylander is as good as having a high first rounder, though. You never know how a prospect will pan out, and Nylander is a known quantity at this point.
Anaheim’s roster is one of the 10 youngest in the NHL, but if you get the sense that the Ducks are an old team, it’s likely because some of the core and long-tenured players — Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, Jakub Silfverberg, Adam Henrique — are either on the wrong side of 30 or in their late-20s. And while the average age of the club doesn’t raise any red flags, that so many of the top players are getting long in the tooth is a bit concerning. And maybe that’s where Nylander fits in.
Is Anaheim the obvious fit for Nylander? Maybe not, but consider what the Ducks could potentially offer the Maple Leafs. Not a single one of Anaheim’s top four defenders are over the age of 27 and Brandon Montour, the youngest of the group, is only 24. That’s four rearguards who are either just entering or about to come into their prime, and for a Ducks team that is eventually going to need successors for Getzlaf and Perry, not to mention the rest of the core group, now might be the best time to pursue a top-tier replacement.
The good news for the Ducks is that moving along Montour, Josh Manson or even Cam Fowler or Hampus Lindholm doesn’t mean the blueline is entirely depleted. Jacob Larsson is primed to become a steady NHLer in short order and Josh Mahura and Andy Welinski have potential to be middle-pairing players. There’s wiggle room.
No team is going to want to strip itself bare in order to land Nylander, not even those clubs in most desperate need of a player of his ilk. That’s to say that while the Flyers probably have the talent on the back end to acquire Nylander at the drop of a hat, it seems incredibly unlikely that either Ivan Provorov or Shayne Gostisbehere are going to be trade chips at any time soon. Other than those two, though, Philadelphia might have the pieces in place to make a serious bid for the winger.
Why does Nylander make sense for the Flyers? Well, with a boatload of cap space available next summer, plus a pending free agent in Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia probably wants to shore up its secondary scoring. In addition, the Flyers have a bounty of blueliners that could make a swap work. Robert Hagg, for instance, could be pique the interest of the Maple Leafs’ front office, as could Travis Sanheim. Samuel Morin still has upside, too, but his injury woes have seen his stock decrease, and let’s not forget the Flyers can probably feel safe in parting ways with one blueliner given Philippe Myers’ development into a high-level prospect.
One defender, even a current NHLer, might not be enough to get the deal done, but Philadelphia also has all of its picks over the next three campaigns, with an additional third-rounder this season that might be able to be thrown in to further entice Toronto.
The Avalanche have what is arguably the best first line in the entire NHL. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have formed a near unstoppable trio that has been able to pick apart opposition almost at will, the evidence of which is that all three are better than point per game players through the first six weeks of the season with 24, 26 and 19 points, respectively. But what Colorado doesn’t have, and what the Avalanche sorely need, is offensive depth. And, hey, would you look at that. Nylander certainly seems the type to provide some much needed offensive prowess on the second line.
The obvious issue in making a move for Nylander, however, is that Colorado may not have what Toronto covets, which is to say the lack of blueline depth could be a hindrance to swinging a deal for the winger. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Sam Girard and Ian Cole don’t exactly form a defensive powerhouse that can go stride for stride with the league’s elite bluelines.
But can the Avalanche entice the Maple Leafs with prospects? Colorado has two incredibly intriguing blueline prospects in Cale Makar and Connor Timmins. If one is included in a trade, maybe with a current roster player and a pick to boost the bid, might it move the needle for Toronto? It could be worth a shot for the Avalanche.