NHL Rumors: Can the Toronto Maple Leafs afford William Nylander

Today’s NHL Rumors examines how William Nylander can remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team balances a roster of expiring contracts and eventual pay increases for their superstars.

The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted William Nylander with the eighth overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Eventually, he debuted on Feb. 29, 2016, scoring 13 points in 22 games as a 19-year-old. 

Statistically, Nylander has suited up for 521 games, scored 177 goals, and has 430 points, good enough for a 0.82 points-per-game average. Ultimately, his cap hit is $6.9 million; however, a significant chunk of his salary is a signing bonus, paid out at $3.5 million. 

After his teammate Auston Matthews signed an extension worth $53 million, all eyes shifted to Nylander, who will become a free agent at the end of the year. Despite expressing his desire to stay with the organization, Toronto needs to start printing their money to balance the books next summer and stay competitive. 

NHL Rumors: Which Maple Leafs players will become free agents after 2023-24?

maple leafs score
Oct 9, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) celebrates a goal by forward John Tavares (not shown) against the Ottawa Senators in the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If anyone frequently visits CapFriendly, they will notice that the Maple Leafs are currently $13.2 million over the cap and have roughly a month to balance the books before opening night. Although that is a topic for another day, it is worth pointing out that the team is right up against the cap, and even if the ceiling goes up again next season, a handful of skaters will need new contracts, creating a slew of problems. 

However, before we get into the futures of Mitch Marner and John Tavares, we will point out that Nylander, Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, Sam Lafferty, Dylan Gambrell, TJ Brodie, John Klingberg, Mark Giordano, Ilya Samsonov, and Martin Jones will be unrestricted free agents. Additionally, Timothy Liljegren will be a restricted free agent. 

Ultimately, for those keeping count at home, the Maple Leafs will negotiate with five forwards, four defensemen, and their two starting netminders. Of course, only some people are returning, but if things click with most of these skaters, Toronto will look to stay competitive in the Eastern Conference and could bring a handful of these players back. 

But, there is an elephant room, and it is the fact that Marner and Tavares will be unrestricted free agents after the 2024-25 season. Ultimately, the duo combine to make $21.9 million, and it’s a sure bet that Marner will request a salary higher than the $10.9 million he’s currently on the books for. As a local kid who is now 32, Tavares could stay with the club but probably will take a pay cut to ensure the team stays competitive. 

Realistically, all these players and their expiring contracts bring us back to Nylander, who is supposedly looking for a significant salary increase. Although there are a lot of rumors out there, as a one-time 40-goal scorer, he’s looking to cash in with a contract that will take him into his mid-30s. However, what he wants and gets can be two figures.

Nylander is an outstanding winger but in a different class than Matthews and Marner

Upon completing his entry-level contract, Nylander remained with the Maple Leafs on a six-year deal worth $45 million. Since signing that deal, he’s tallied 295 points, which ranks 40th in the NHL. Comparatively, Marner has 424 points (fifth overall), and Matthews has 410 (seventh overall). Of course, with statistics like that, they have earned contracts that begin in the $10 million range. 

However, Nylander will attempt to secure a deal like that, which seems unrealistic. Ultimately, there’s no denying that he’s recently found the next level in his game with 167 points in his last 163 games, which includes 74 goals. But he’s yet to win any awards or earn a spot at the All-Star Game. 

Realistically, unless he goes off again this upcoming season and bags 100 points or 50 goals, Nylander’s next contract should be in the $8-9 million range for five or six years. At that point, he’d be a free agent again at 32 or 33, and depending on the level of success he garners over his next deal, he could land one more payday before considering his retirement in a decade.

Of course, we are not in his negotiating camp and don’t sit in the board room in Toronto. What is best for business is whether these two groups can reach an agreement that doesn’t get nasty in the media. As a member of the core four (Matthews, Marner, and Tavares), Nylander could be one of the main reasons this team breaks the longest Stanley Cup drought of all time, which currently stands at 56 years.