Everyone wins as William Nylander saga ends at the buzzer

Justin Cuthbert

Refreshing the feed furiously in the final minutes, it seemed as though the worst-case scenario — for player, for team, for fans — could actually be realized in the final minutes of the months-long staring contest between William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Banter beginning to be replaced with mild bitterness, you could see the dark path the conversation was headed down online had Leafs rookie general manager Kyle Dubas and Nylander allowed the 5 p.m. deadline to pass without agreeing to terms on a contract that would at the very least kick the ball down the road until the heavy negotiations could begin again next summer.

True to the hard-bargained nature of the negotiation, though, the first update from a newsbreaker dropped with three minutes before the deadline, followed by another, and then another.

At 5 p.m. on the nose, official word came down from the Maple Leafs.

William Nylander was back on a six-year contract extension.

William Nylander took the negotiations to the dying minutes, but got an offer close to what he was looking for. (Getty)
William Nylander took the negotiations to the dying minutes, but got an offer close to what he was looking for. (Getty)

There was a “pending league approval” caveat, but any worries over whether or not the contract made it to the desk in the NHL office in time was soothed when the details of the agreement started to leak through.

Included in that: the contract was officially filed at 4:55 p.m. ET time — or five minutes before Nylander’s season was shot.

Here are the more important points from the deal:

  • Nylander will earn a little over $45 million over the life of the contract.

  • It will cost the Maple Leafs $10.2 million on the salary cap for the remainder of this season, and just under $7 million in seasons two-through-six.

  • Nylander will receive nearly half the money up front — 42% over the first two seasons.

  • Nylander will have in excess of $10 million more in career earnings than his father when the deal is fully paid out.

  • He’ll earn more than David Pastrnak (albeit less in terms of salary cap percentage).

While included mostly in jest, the final two bullets do illustrate that while Nylander’s lofty and perhaps unrealistic demands weren’t met by the Leafs at the end of this ultimate game of chicken, it’s not as if he was swindled at the buzzer.

To show for his patience, Nylander will not just out-earn his direct comparables, but many players far more advanced in their NHL careers than he is. He’ll also have that guaranteed money paid out primarily in signing bonuses and preserve two unrestricted seasons with the six-year deal, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to sign another big-money contract at age 28.

Considering how little leverage his camp had and how deep they dug into the negotiation, the result is an obvious win for Nylander.

That is, unless he values being in Toronto more than he’s let on.

The most intriguing detail from the agreement is the amount of money Nylander will receive up front. While certainly enticing for a player coming off his entry-level contract and looking to recoup losses from his holdout, front-loading the contract is as much a benefit to the Maple Leafs, who maximize their flexibility moving forward.

A 60-plus-point producer locked long term at under $7 million, Nylander’s cost will only become more attractive to would-be suitors as the cap continues to rise. But with a $2.5 million base salary in the final four seasons of the deal, his raw-dollar value to more budget-conscious franchises will increase even beyond his total percentage of the pie.

Only able to secure a 10-team no-trade list in the final season of his deal given his restricted rights, Nylander’s vulnerability to a trade will only increase from season to season throughout the life of his contract.

Signed, he’s now equipped to serve as bait if the time comes for the Leafs to jump at the chance to fill an area of weakness, when moving him before the contract was brokered would have been the worst move the Leafs could have made.

Fortunately for Nylander, obvious deficiencies are few and far between for the Leafs, who have become a terror in the Eastern Conference.

Nylander returns to a Leafs team operating in the top five in goals scored and goals allowed, and which has won 18 of their first 26 games without the profitable partnership he formed over the last two seasons with Auston Matthews.

With Nylander and Matthews on one line, John Tavares and Mitch Marner on another, and with Nazem Kadri having talent at his wings, the Leafs have maybe the most talented forward group in the NHL — and still reserve the right to add help at the deadline.

They are legitimate Stanley Cup threats this season, and on Saturday they ensured that Nylander’s extension won’t undo their progress this season or be the one that sabotages their challenges in the seasons to come.

Yes, it’s possible that negotiations with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner wind up to be equally laborious, and there’s always the threat of the offer sheet. Despite Dubas’s “We can, and we will” assertion, perhaps it turns out that all the pieces can’t all fit.

If so, the Leafs can revisit Nylander’s value to the organization, and how that might compare to another franchise’s valuation, then.

And with the benefit, this time, of the player not having the option to hold out.

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