Elliotte Friedman on the William Nylander situation: “Still think the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goal is to sign him, but they’re at the point where they’re beginning to test the market”

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William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Florida Panthers
Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Hockey Night in Canada panel provided an update on unsigned RFA winger William Nylander at the second intermission of the Leafs vs. Bruins game on Saturday night.

Elliotte Friedman reported that the priority remains to reach a contractual agreement that would keep Nylander in Toronto, but the Leafs have begun putting feelers out on what offers are available if it comes down to a trade, asking teams to submit an untouchables list and to begin formulating formal offers.

Nick Kypreos added that the bridge deal is something the Leafs may shift to “at the last minute” if there is no progress on a bigger deal, suggesting the Leafs‘ attention remains firmly fixed on a long-term contract extension. He also mentioned that the Leafs may be willing to go as high as $40 million on a six-year deal ($6.67 million AAV), but that those terms have not been formally offered as of yet.

Those are the same contractual terms that friend of the Nylanders, David Pastrnak — who racked up a hat trick tonight against the Leafs and is a point-per-game player on a bargain of a contract — is currently signed for in Boston.

The comparable cuts both ways; the Leafs can make the case Nylander’s average annual value shouldn’t come in at a higher number than Pastrnak’s knowing the difference in Pastrnak’s superior platform season (Pastrnak scored 35 goals and 70 points). Nylander, on the other hand, is no doubt taking note of how much money his friend left on the table on the six-year, sub-$7 million deal for a player who now has 15 goals in 16 games this season at 22 years of age.

Here is the full transcript of the HNIC “Headlines” segment on Nylander below.

Friedman: I still think the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goal is to sign him, but they’re at a point where they’re beginning to test the market. Word is that they have asked teams to inform them who the teams and interested parties will not be willing to move, and also to begin preparing formal offers for unsigned Toronto winger.

I did ask the GM, Kyle Dubas, if this was accurate and he declined comment. But to our information, that is where we are at this point. The next phase is beginning.

Kypreos: I’m hearing the priority still is to sign him. The talks are ongoing. Some have suggested to me that that the Leafs may be willing to go to the Pastrnak contract — which is just around $40 million — over six years. My understanding, though, is that that isn’t an official offer as of just yet. But we do believe that if the Leafs are going to make a short-term deal, it might not come until the end of November in the last minute. A lot of suggestions are saying that number would have to be around $18 million for three years, but right now, still no traction.

Johnston: History tells us that it is likely to end up this way. William Nylander is the 21st player in the last nine years to go through this process beyond October without a contract as a group-2 player. Only one went longer than him — that was Kyle Turris in 2011. He signed with Arizona, but a few weeks later, was traded to Ottawa. There isn’t much recent history of RFAs getting this deep into the process and making a deal to stay with the team.

Kypreos: Just on a side note: Still no meaningful contract negotiations with Matthews or Marner. It doesn’t appear to be a top priority just yet for the Leafs.

Not a ton of “new” news in there, then, besides Dubas doing his due diligence on the trade market, but it’s pretty shocking it’s come to this nonetheless.

As far as the trade value discussion — whether it’s a sign-and-trade or a keep-and-re-evaluate-later situation — surely Nylander is worth more as a signed player on whatever bridge deal the two sides can agree on, as opposed to the Leafs attempting to retrieve something even approaching fair value on an unsigned player.

The Leafs have to know a bridge contract is infinitely more preferable to trading away a high-end young asset in a losing deal, and Nylander has to know it’s preferable to sitting out the year. Common sense has to win out here at some point, but for now, the Leafs appear to be driving hard to try to get Nylander signed long-term at a good number for the betterment of their long-term cap outlook, regardless of the optics and mounting pressure in the meantime.

There are now 20 days left to reach a deal before December 1st, at which point Nylander would have to sit out the entire season if no contract is signed.