There isn’t much that can dampen the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ spirits these days, what with the endless parade of power-play goals filling NHL nets and the growing number of freshly printed No. 91 jerseys popping up around town.
Of course, there is one awkward cloud hanging over the team’s head at the moment, threatening to throw a wrench into their contender plans: the situation surrounding still-unsigned restricted free agent William Nylander.
With the team’s Oct. 3 regular season opener just days away, all eyes are on GM Kyle Dubas, with the prospect of Nylander missing the early stages of the campaign leaving some among the Leafs faithful feeling uneasy. One of the team’s former GMs isn’t too worried about the two sides getting a deal done before Wednesday rolls around, though.
Brian Burke had plenty of experiences dealing with negotiations such as this one during his front-office stints with the Leafs, Flames, Ducks, Canucks, and Whalers, the most recent coming just a couple years ago with then-restricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau. In fact, it’s that recent experience with Gaudreau and his agent, Lewis Gross — who just so happens to also represent Nylander — that has Burke seeing a resolution coming soon.
“I can only tell you, this agent [who’s representing Nylander] represented Johnny Gaudreau, made some demands which we’ve never really made public when I worked for the Flames, because we thought people would resent them,” Burke said Saturday in a discussion with David Amber and Nick Kypreos. “It doesn’t cost William Nylander anything [right now]. He hasn’t lost a cent yet. He’ll lose money starting Wednesday night.
“My prediction is he’ll move on Tuesday — the agent did that with us with Gaudreau — and they’ll get this deal done.”
Though Leafs fans may be looking for a quick resolution to avoid derailing the club’s hopeful campaign — and allowing for a genuine rift between team and player to form — Burke understands why Dubas is in no rush to simply put the situation to bed as quickly as possible.
“Management has to have this fight. Management has to have this fight with William Nylander, because the size of every single slice of pie matters in a hard-cap system,” Burke said. “They have to fight him here, and there’s two reasons: one, they’ve got to worry about their own cap situation.”
Burke added that even if the club can lock up their star forward to what he believes is Toronto’s ideal number, around $6 million per year, there’s still a massive cap crunch to deal with. Secondly, he said, a long-term deal better positions the Leafs should they elect to eventually trade Nylander.
“I honestly believe they’re going to go for a long-term deal,” Burke continued. “Kyle Dubas is doing this just right … Make him take a long-term deal at your number, and then he’s tradable. They’ll get way more for him if he’s signed for six years than they will if he’s signed on a bridge deal.”
While there’s reason to believe the two sides will put pen to paper on Tuesday, Burke did say that even if the Leafs are forced to start without Nylander, the circumstances surrounding the team’s start and the skillset of the player in question mean Toronto should be just fine, regardless.
“I don’t think they’re going to have a poor start. Based on the strength of schedule, and the strength of their team, I think they may win a lot of games 6-4,” Burke said. “The power play is lethal — they’re going to score goals. They don’t need this aspect that this player brings, as much as they need other aspects. So I think they can start without him.
“And I like this player — his dad played for me at Hartford. I like this player, I think that he’s important to them. But they can start without him.”
Burke also cautioned those awaiting a signing not worry too much about the fact that negotiations have wound all the way down to the final few days before the regular season.
There’s still plenty of time to make a deal, he said.
“Four days is an eternity in a contract negotiation,” Burke said. “If they want him in for opening night, 12 hours is plenty of time to do a deal — four hours is plenty of time. Four days is an eternity.
“I’m not even returning the agent’s call on the fourth day before.”
Watch the video at the top of this post to hear the rest of the panel’s discussion about how the Maple Leafs and William Nylander might find a solution, or whether it’s time to explore a trade.