October 13, 2018

What do rival NHL executives and agents feel is a fair deal for Leafs’ William Nylander?

As​ the William​ Nylander​ standoff​ continues,​ I thought​ I would gather opinion​ from NHL​ hockey executives and​ rival​ agents as to​​ what they felt would be a fair deal for the 22-year-old restricted free agent.

As far as I can tell, the Nylander situation was status quo as of Thursday. That could obviously change with one phone call, but it appears that both sides remain very far apart.

While I believe the Leafs’ opening salvo was around $6-million over six years and the Nylander camp wanted something north of $8 million a year on a long-term deal, there’s some wiggle room from there, but the question remains, how much?

It’s imperative from the Leafs’ perspective, I believe, not to go much farther north of $6.5-million a year on a long-term deal because they believe every dollar spent above that begins to impact their flexibility on the contracts for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and to some degree, pending UFA Jake Gardiner. I think the Leafs at some point also presented a scenario of a four-year deal which carried a lower AAV.

On the flip side, I believe the Nylander camp is wary of a Leafs discount because they fear the player getting traded at some point (Nylander at his age can’t command a no-trade clause until he’s UFA-age eligible). For what it’s worth, every GM in the league I’ve talked to about Nylander say they’re under the impression Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will not trade him. Whether that’s still the case a month from now if this drags on, who knows, I guess.

(By the way, one veteran GM via text message Thursday said he was impressed with how the young Dubas was hanging in there).

But perhaps more to the point, I think the Nylander camp is also concerned they’ll get seriously overlapped by Marner’s new deal next summer. If they sign for $6.5-million a year, what if Marner gets $8.5-million to $9-million on his next deal? There are some who would say, well, yeah, because Marner is a better player. But you can understand from the Nylander camp perspective, he’s coming off back-to-back 61-point seasons and there’s lots of ceiling there, too.

Whatever the case, Nylander is paying the price for having his deal come up first. Such is the nature of the business.

As I said at the top, I canvassed people around the league, and I thought it was important to get both agents and team execs because well, they might see the world a little differently here. Here’s a sampling of their assertions when I asked what they think is fair contract for him to sign:

One rival Eastern Conference executive believed Filip Forsberg’s six-year, $36-million deal was a fair comparable for Nylander, which well, the Leafs obviously agree with. When I suggested that was signed in the summer of 2016 so perhaps you have to add a bit with salary cap inflation, he didn’t agree.

From a rival agent: the Nylander deal should fall just under David Pastrnak, six years x $6.666 million a year. “6.5 x 6; if 7 years, 6.7 M per year; if 8 years maybe close to $7 M a year,’’ said the agent via text message.

Another agent said if Nylander was his client he’d try like heck to get him $6.5-million a year over four years knowing how young he’d still be on the next deal, with the ability to make more money but is also cognizant the Leafs probably wouldn’t go for that, they’d want a lower AAV on a shorter-term deal.

A Western Conference executive pointed out that from his vantage point, the Nylander standoff is a debate based on the “current market vs. future market,’’ he said via text message. “Currently he’s only worth 6.5 on a term deal. If Matthews/Marner go for 9-12, he’s certainly worth 7.5-8.’’ Which I took to mean $7.5 million a year over a max eight-year term. He was the only executive I found that was willing to give Nylander more than $7-million a year, mind you that was on a max deal.

Said an Eastern Conference team exec via text message: “It’s 6×6.5 or 6×6.75. He’s not as good as Pastrnak but contract values have gone up a bit.’’

So there’s a sampling of what other smart hockey people think. It may well be the Leafs need to go a bit north of $6.5 million on a long-term deal, but certainly if a deal gets done, the Nylander camp must come down.

Honestly at this point if I were Nylander I’d focus on a two-year, bridge deal at around $5 million a year. Bet on yourself. You’ll be putting up big numbers playing alongside a world-class centre. And if your worst fears come true and you’re traded over the next two years, you get to reset the parameters of your next contract based on your new market. Now, for the Leafs, a two-year bridge has both pros and cons. The pros is that you get this over with at a number you can live with for two years. The negative is that you have to relive this negotiation in two years and the ask from the players’ camp will be even higher then at a time in which you may have even less wiggle room after Matthews and Marner will have signed. Cost certainty is what the Leafs are striving for here.