With the two sides believed to be nearing a resolution less than a week away from the final deadline, Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Alec Brownscombe joined The Battle of the Atlantic on TSN1200 on Sunday to discuss the final chapters of the William Nylander saga.
Alec on Nylander’s hesitance to sign at an overly team-friendly number on a long-term deal:
I know I said last week that there is equal blame [between the two sides] — that might’ve been the wrong phrasing a little bit. I was just more saying this isn’t a one-sided thing. I think both sides are mostly acting logically in how they’re approaching this and it’s just a tough situation.
I know a lot of people say he is getting bad advice from his agent and his father for it to get to this point. It’s easy to say that on the outside, but if you look at the conditions as they are and try to put yourself inside him and his agent and his father’s frame of mind here…
They actually kind of look smarter two months into this for me more than the opposite. I know that might raise some eyebrows to say. But Marner has absolutely gone off this year. Morgan Rielly has absolutely gone off. You could say now he looks more expendable than ever and has less leverage with Kasperi Kapanen’s emergence and I see that angle, but if you’re Nylander and the club has been pushing a long-term deal hard with you — which is the indication… The Leafs are trying to avoid a bridge here at all costs because of their fear of what happens in a couple season when he’s got arbitration rights and more leverage as far as the body of work.
But you’re looking at this if you’re Willy and saying, “I am going to be behind Tavares, Matthews, and Marner in the salary hierarchy for sure. That’s just a fact as of this summer. I am also, if I sign long term, going to be behind Morgan Rielly at some point in the next four years and also behind Frederik Andersen in three years probably. So now I’m number five in the order.”
“If I sign 6-7-8 years for a discounted team-friendly amount, I’m looking like a pretty good candidate for a trade when the cap squeeze sets in knowing my value as a player, my value as a contract, and where I fit in in the Leafs hierarchy.”
If I end up playing in Arizona on a team-friendly contract I signed with the Leafs, good God…”
Loyalty is a one-way street in this business and his party knows that.
On top of that, the Leafs are a uniquely deep team down the middle with Tavares – Matthews – Kadri. Willy is not getting time at center here any time soon, which naturally is how you can get paid more as an NHL forward. People forget he was a center all the way coming up. He could definitely play inside the top six as a centerman on a lot of teams in this league. He was a center in pro hockey in Sweden and with the Marlies and he’s been good there when he’s gotten the chance in the NHL.
So if you’re Willy and his team looking at a long-term deal of 6 or 7 years, I can totally see why he wouldn’t want to go much below $7 million.
Alec on what the lineup might look like with William Nylander finally back around the same time that Auston Matthews returns:
It’s going to be a lot of fun, first of all. This team is playing really well by and large, but there’s obviously a new level to find when they’re their best self with Nylander and Matthews.
It’s a no brainer to re-unite Nylander and Matthews for sure. I’m not sure if there will be a bit of a leeway given for Nylander to get up to speed as far as using him down the lineup at the start. It’s not easy missing camp plus two months, then jumping back into a league that is going at full speed. It’s like jumping out of a parked car into the middle of the autobahn.
But Nylander and Matthews outscored the opposition 52-25 at 5v5 last year. It’s an otherworldly duo. Historically the line has been Hyman with those two and it’s worked really well.
The problem is Tavares, Hyman and Marner are looking just incredible of late. I didn’t think Marner had his best road trip this past week, maybe his worst two games back-to-back this year for a player who has been a paragon of consistency all season, but that line had some consistently really dominant shifts this past week.
When skill works as hard as that line has been working, and the combined motors of Hyman and Tavares as well as Marner when he’s got his feet moving like he usually does and he’s all over the ice, it’s a dominant line that can play against anybody. I can’t see Babcock splitting that up right now.
I think we’ll see Babcock try what he wanted to try originally in the summer which was Marleau on the wing with Matthews and Nylander. Marleau still hasn’t really gotten going this year and fans are getting concerned as they often do with a player of his age. I have more patience for him than others do…
First of all, I don’t think he’s lost a step yet, plus he scored 31 last season between the regular season and playoffs including four in the seven-game series against Boston. I think Marleau will ultimately be a contributor when it matters, but they need to get him going better for sure and I think Matthews and Willy can do that for him.
He won’t need to touch the puck much there, which isn’t really his game. Just make smart plays, be good over 200 feet, stretch the ice, get open for them, finish on his chances. When Matthews and Kapanen played with Marleau, I think the reason why that line didn’t really work great for me was that there wasn’t a clear puck carrier who loved carrying the puck through the neutral zone on the wing like Nylander does.
As far as swinging low in the d-zone, taking a pass, slicing through the neutral zone… that’s not Kapanen or Marleau’s game, and while Matthews can definitely do that, he loves dishing off, powering through the neutral zone and getting the puck back inside the offensive blue line.
I think Matthews is at his best with a true playmaker on his wing because of how he finds soft ice and how he can take advantage of that with his shot. Nylander’s ability to play catch with him, draw defenders in and then hit him with a tape-to-tape pass suits Matthews really well obviously.