If you had to rate the 2018 National Hockey League offseason for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a whole you would be hard pressed to argue that it wasn't a terrific summer for the organization, especially for newly appointed Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. The acquisition of superstar center John Tavares, formerly the captain of the New York Islanders, was something that seemed more like a fantasy than reality for Leaf fans and that move alone has served to propel Toronto to one of their most successful summers in recent memory. That being said though it does not appear to be all positive for the Maple Leafs in spite of the fact that we are now only several hours away from the star of the NHL's preseason.
You see a key component in the plan set forth by Dubas has been his insistence that the Leafs not only can, but will, be able to keep their current "Big 3" locked in under contract for the foreseeable future in spite of the addition of Tavares to the roster and the constant that places on the team as a result of the NHL's current salary cap. At no point has Dubas ever acknowledged that there is a realistic possibility that the addition of Tavares could force the Leafs to move either William Nylander, Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews but as the sand flows through the hourglass it looks more and more like that could be a reality that Dubas and the Leafs must face.
In a recent interview segment with Sportsnet, Sportsnet's NHL insider Elliotte Friedman was asked about two of the biggest free agents that remain unsigned this summer, the aforementioned Nylander as well as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse. Both men are currently restricted free agents and both men have yet to sign a deal in spite of the fact that the preseason is almost underway and Friedman had a great deal to say about both of their ongoing negotiations. One thing that is readily apparent based on his comments regarding the situation is that the Oilers are much closer to a deal with their young star on the blue line than the Leafs are to signing their young forward.
"Ooh, that's a good one. That's a really good one. I think that Nylander and Toronto are farther apart than Nurse and the Oilers. I do," said Friedman as per Chris Nichols.
As you would expect those comments raised the eyebrows of more than just a few fans in Toronto and when Friedman was asked to elaborate on the issue things began to sound even worse regarding the likelihood of Nylander remaining in Toronto for the long term.
"Nylander and Toronto - the team's not talking, the agent's not talking. But I hear they are significantly apart, significantly apart. The player doesn't want a bridge deal, and the team on a long-term deal - apparently they're not close."
There have been reports that Nylander is seeking to sign a long term deal immediately in the hopes of avoiding a bridge deal but if the Leafs are a long way off their desired number you have to seriously wonder if Dubas' hand may not end up being forced in this scenario. I believe that both Marner and Matthews are a bigger priority for the Leafs, at least in the long term, and I don't see a situation in which Dubas would give Nylander the kind of salary that could jeopardize either of those signings.
It may be premature to begin discussing the possibility of a trade involving Nylander but with the season drawing closer and closer it may be one that Dubas has to now seriously grapple with. Word is the two sides may be as far apart as $1.5 million+ per season and that doesn't sound like the kind of gap that's going to be closed anytime soon.
Photo Credit: Joel Marklund-Bildbyran via ZUMA