The closer we get to Dec. 1, the more trade speculation will ramp up around William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Still without a contract, Nylander is less than a month away from the cut-off date when he either needs to sign a deal or will be ineligible to play in the NHL this season. And there is no indication the team and player are any closer to agreeing on terms.
“I get the sense that they’ve hit a real road block with Nylander, like a serious road block,” Elliotte Friedman said on Sportsnet 650’s The Program last Tuesday. “It can change, but as I talk to you right now I understand they’re at a total standstill.
“I still lean towards [believing] they want to sign him. I believe that’s their first choice, but they haven’t made a lot of progress. I think both sides are getting frustrated, but the one thing about the trading is — I don’t think they’ve decided to trade him now, but I think they’ve at least made the decision that they’re going to have to think about it.”
Prior to the start of the season we highlighted a number of RFAs who missed training camp or the start of the season in recent years. Two of the five highlighted players who missed regular season games were traded within two years: Ryan O’Reilly and P.K. Subban, who had massive new contracts. The other three were Hampus Lindholm, Andreas Athanasiou and Jacob Trouba, and you still have to wonder what Trouba’s future in Winnipeg holds.
Only one of the three players we mentioned who only missed training camp were eventually traded, so while Nylander isn’t destined to be traded yet, more than a few players in his situation have eventually been moved. Most of the time that was because the new contracts they signed ended up being too rich for the teams that signed them.
So, as we crawl towards the ever-important Dec. 1 date, and with Auston Matthews back skating for the Leafs, we look at a few potential trade destinations for Nylander, if it ever gets to that point.
This is the most obvious fit for Nylander.
“I do think that when the time does come — if the time does come — that Toronto decides they’re going to deal him I think that Carolina has made it very clear they are all in,” Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada’s Headlines segment last Saturday.
Carolina needs scoring and Toronto needs defence, so naturally they look like good trade partners on paper. The Canes’ offence looked to be turning a corner with 25 goals in their first seven games this season, but more than half of those (13) came in two games against the Rangers and Canucks. They’ve mustered only 13 goals in their past seven and a 6.5 shooting percentage on the season that ranks dead-last in the NHL.
Toronto, meanwhile, can score with the best of them, but their main challenge is defending other teams’ top units. They especially need another right-shot defenceman, or two.
Players the Leafs could target: Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk, Valentin Zykov
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings very much want to change the way they play the game. After years of dominating with a ‘heavy hockey’ style, Los Angeles hasn’t adapted to a speedier game with as much success as other teams have. Head coach John Stevens was dismissed on Sunday, players are beginning to appear in the trade rumour mill, and as of Tuesday, the Kings sat last in the NHL with a 4-8-1 record.
With 2.15 goals per game, Los Angeles has the least-productive offence in the league. Using last year’s final scoring lists, Nylander’s 61 points would have been good for second (tied with Jeff Carter) on Los Angeles’ roster.
The fact that Nylander could potentially become a centre one day helps the Kings, as they could move Carter back to the wing. Nylander’s speed and shiftiness add an element the Kings lack. The only issue that could arise is Los Angeles’ cap situation — today they already have $76.954 million committed to 16 roster players next season.
Players the Leafs could target: Jake Muzzin, Tanner Pearson, Kale Clague, Rasmus Kupari
From Feb. 1 through the end of the regular season in 2017-18, the Flyers had a top-10 record in the NHL at 18-8-6. That finish set the bar higher on expectations in 2018-19.
So it’s been hard to swallow another middling 7-7-1 start through 15 games.
“You look at our team on paper, and we’ve got a pretty good team. But paper doesn’t mean a whole lot. We need to play better,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall told reporters in late October. “I’m a pretty patient guy, but things need to start going better here.”
The Flyers have answered with three wins in their past four games (all on the road) and got at least a point in each one. This has probably dulled the speculation that head coach Dave Hakstol is on the hot seat, but if a Nylander-type becomes available, the Flyers would be an intriguing fit.
On last week’s 31 Thoughts Podcast, Friedman noted the Flyers were a “stealth team” for Nylander and have pieces Toronto would want if they decide to move.
Players the Leafs could target: Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, Robert Hagg
A hot 8-3-2 start maybe makes it less likely the Wild jump into the trade market, but with a new GM in Paul Fenton, you can bet that at some point he’ll want to put his mark on this roster.
Even with a good record, though, you have to wonder if Nylander is worth shaking things up for. The Wild average 3.08 goals per game (15th in the league) and convert on 18.6 per cent of their power plays (20th) so there is room to improve in an area Nylander excels.
Consider, too, that Minnesota is one of the league’s oldest teams with an average age of 29 and you can see why a flashy 22-year-old with back-to-back 60-point seasons would be an enticing target.
Eric Staal’s expiring contract means it’s possible there will be a hole at centre soon and Mikko Koivu will turn 36 before the playoffs start. The Wild are going to need to start skewing younger soon.
Players the Leafs could target: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba
Speaking of stealth teams, how about the Ducks? GM Bob Murray usually goes about his business quietly and seems like a GM who could be in the market for a player of Nylander’s type.
It’s no secret the Ducks are struggling. They are 6-6-3, a record improved by the outstanding netminding from John Gibson, and despite the league’s worst average shot differential per game (-11.7). Last year Anaheim got off to a similarly slow start with an 11-10-4 record through Nov. 29, and then traded defenceman Sami Vatanen to New Jersey for centre Adam Henrique.
Injuries helped Murray into the trade market in November of last season and the Ducks are again hurting today. Ryan Getzlaf has been in and out of the lineup. Patrick Eaves just returned for the first time in a year. Ondrej Kase remains out with a concussion. Nick Ritchie returned from his own contract dispute and then got injured. Rookie Max Comtois recently went down, and vet Corey Perry is out for a while.
When the Ducks were swept out of the first round of last year’s playoffs by San Jose, Murray spoke about the need for his team to get faster in 2018-19. There were no additions made over the summer to achieve that, which makes Nylander an intriguing option.
Players the Leafs could target: Brandon Montour, Josh Manson, Josh Mahura, Troy Terry, Max Jones