On The Battle of the Atlantic on TSN1200 this weekend, Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Alec Brownscombe discussed the ongoing William Nylander contractual impasse, fans that have turned on Nylander, the Leafs’ impressive road play in California, and Kasperi Kapanen’s emergence in the first month and a half of the season.
Alec on a great California road swing for the Leafs:
There was a time when this trip was almost without fail a massive wakeup call about how far off from good the Leafs really were. That was the annual tradition with this trip. To some extent, it shows how the Pacific Division has weakened of late, but it also shows how far the Leafs have come in that they were full value, I think, for the sweep they just accomplished.
There were a couple of five-goal performances against San Jose and LA where they looked really good from the drop of the puck all the way through the 60 minutes, and then against Anaheim, they squeaked out a 2-1 win with the backup in while playing tired against a rested opponent. It’s important to be able to show you can find a way to win in those situations as well.
It’s been interesting over this trip — and in the last 5-10 games in general — to see what we’ve seen take place here with Auston Matthews out of the lineup. There was the concern about scoring depth for a while, but it’s really not been an issue because guys have stepped up across the board, really, and more than anything, they’ve really started playing a more structured game and are creating more offense off of that. They have more than enough scoring talent even without Matthews and Nylander, which is remarkable, but they’re playing the right way and generating more than enough offense that way.
They just look like a more organized team as far as how they are supporting the puck in all three zones, how they’re breaking out, how they’re playing what I’d describe as just a really fast and determined brand of hockey right now with all hands on deck as far as four lines that are going pretty good across the board.
It’s just been good hockey to watch and it is a really fun time to be a Leafs fan.
Alec on the emergence of Kasperi Kapanen in William Nylander’s absence:
I think it’s a real testament to the patience in the player development and the approach the Leafs have taken there. There are no shortage of teams that would’ve had Kapanen in the NHL a lot earlier than the Leafs did.
There are so many teams that are dying for that kind of cheat-code level, secret-weapon level of speed and players that can stretch the ice like Kapanen can. We saw just the other day LA go out and make a bad sell low trade with Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin for that reason — funny enough, that came just after the Leafs so badly outclassed them as far as the score and the overall pace to the play.
By keeping him down as long as they did, we’re seeing he really evolved from this guy who had this amazing tool, which is elite level foot speed, but kind of had a reputation initially as a perimeter player, to now being someone playing inside the top six and being a well-rounded player who can play 200 feet, who can kill penalties and be sort of a Michael Grabner-level threat there, and play power play as well.
I think the biggest thing to note — we know about his skating ability and how he can stretch the ice and the problems that creates for opponents — is how heavy he is on the puck now and just the work he’s put in on his body as well as his overall competitiveness on the ice. I’d probably put him just behind Hyman as Leafs wingers who can play that hard and heavy kind of game. That’s really rounded him out as a player.
I still think his mind still doesn’t work as fast as his feet sometimes and he can make some odd choices with the puck at times and skate himself out of options, but he’s been given the opportunity with Nylander’s absence and he is proving he is a legit top six winger in this league.
Alec on swaths of the Leafs fan base turning on Nylander:
Fans in any contractual standoff can’t wrap their head around a millionaire athlete holding out for more millions. I get that is hard for people to wrap their minds around, and the Leafs are playing really well, so you wonder why Willy doesn’t want to get here as soon as he can. I get that. But objectively, there is just as much blame to go around on the Leafs side of things.
Shanahan’s comments about how maybe this isn’t the place for people who don’t take less money to be a Leaf — I think that’s totally unfair to Nylander and a toxic seed to plant in a market like this.
You’d swear these critics know what’s going on inside the negotiation. It’s impossible to make heads from tails as far as what the actual offers have been and what concrete offers have been submitted to the Nylander camp. Reading between the lines on a lot of the reports, I certainly don’t know what concrete offers have gone back and forth between the two sides, but it doesn’t sound like the Leafs have necessarily tabled even that David Pastrnak contract yet — which to me is indicative of a potentially unreasonable stance on Dubas’ behalf as well.
You look at cap inflation and how those two players produced over their entry-level deals, and for me, that is a totally reasonable sum of money to give Nylander on a six-year contract. Just as the Draisaitl $8.5 million AAV should not set the bar for RFAs because it was an overspend by Edmonton, the Pastrnak deal is the opposite scenario to that in that it’s a bargain of a deal that is going to see Pastrnak underpaid by $2-3 million per season as soon as this year, and that’s for the duration of the deal. He’s leaving something to the tune of $15+ million on the table.
Willy’s not looking at taking less than that as a player who is rightfully confident in his own abilities and saying, “Sign me up, Kyle. Let’s do this.” I wouldn’t, either.
Alec on where things stand as we approach December 1st:
There are are a few scenarios left here as I see it, and signing him long-term isn’t among the scenarios that are at all likely anymore.
They’re kind of at the point in the negotiation now where they’re thinking we may as well wait this all the way out to the end now if we’ve come this far. Let’s just see what happens under the heat of the deadline at this point.
Surely, still, the most likely outcome is that they get him on a bridge both sides can live with. I think that’s just the common sense solution at the end of the day. Just find a bridge number that the two sides can deal with. Give him a lower year-one salary with a high bonus structure so he doesn’t really lose salary from this whole thing and is made whole, and the Leafs kind of keep the cap hit down as much as possible that way, and we’ll we revisit this in a few years and get him in the friggin’ lineup.
One scenario is that they trade him before December 1, but there is also the scenario where the standoff lasts and neither side flinches at all before December 1. I think that’s still quite unlikely, but it’s not obviously outside the realm of possibility. In that situation, if you’re the Leafs, you’re looking at potentially moving him at the deadline for help this season, or thinking towards the end of the season toward the draft.
But if it does go past December 1, I don’t see how he possibly could play another game as a Leaf. The only scenario I could see where he could maybe end up here even if that happens is that he waits and sees what Matthews and Marner do, and they are seeming to be taking reasonable numbers with a mind towards keeping everyone together and making it all work in Toronto. But that is pretty far out there at this point.
I was reading this article interviewing Michael Peca, who is one of the few players in NHL history who sat out an entire season as an RFA when he was traded afterward to New York from Buffalo. He was saying that once you sit out the year, you’re probably past the point of no return and you’re probably done with the team. That is concerning if you’re a Leafs fan.
The reason I think it does get done even if it’s just a bridge scenario is unlike the Peca situation and unlike the O’Reilly situation as well, the relationship isn’t unsalvageable insofar as Willy wants to be a Leaf by all accounts if he can get what he and his camp feel like is a fair deal here. And I think Dubas really, really values the player and knows he is losing any trade in his current predicament.
But it’s literally driving Leafs fans crazy, though. It’s frustrating for them, and also so tantalizing at the same time. This is currently a top-five team in all the major offensive categories, and it still hasn’t seen a shift of Nylander and Matthews together, who outscored the opposition more than 2:1 at 5v5 last year.