Nylander and the team agreed to a six-year, $41.77-million contract and now the attention can turn to marquee pending restricted free agents Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but also pending unrestricted free-agent defenceman Jake Gardiner.
Both Matthews and Marner, like Nylander, will in all likelihood be rewarded with lucrative, long-term deals, but Gardiner’s situation could complicate the team’s cap. The 28-year-old’s current average annual salary is $4.05 million and he is expected to earn a nice raise on his next deal.
Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said Saturday during the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada that Gardiner could command as much as a $6- or $7-million cap hit on the open market, although that type of salary on a long-term deal might not be feasible for the Maple Leafs when you factor in the what Matthews and Marner will make on their next deals.
“If he’s willing to take a slight increase from the [$4.05 million] that he is presently earning then perhaps they’d be more than willing to put him on a long-term contract,” Kypreos said. “So as of now don’t completely write off Jake Gardiner [and his future with the team].”
Elliotte Friedman suggested the use of signing bonuses could be a way for the Leafs to incentivize Gardiner to sign an extension in Toronto for perhaps less than he could earn in free agency.
Forwards Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Josh Leivo, blueliner Igor Ozhiganov and backup goalie Garret Sparks are also notable RFAs. Ron Hainsey, Tyler Ennis, Par Lindholm and Martin Marincin are the team’s other pending UFAs.