A couple of Maple Leafs gave William Nylander a congratulatory stick whack on the backside at Monday’s pratice, maybe hoping some large denomination bills might fall out. But as he shot into the NHL’s salary cap stratosphere, so do expectations for Nylander and the other Core Four forwards he joins at the top of the club’s pay pyramid.
The 27-year-old winger’s eight-year, $92 million US extension was officially signed before the Leafs took the ice, cause for equal parts celebration in the room and consternation outside it for supporters who thought the club can’t sustain another costly long-term deal without it damaging title hopes in the bigger roster picture.
For now, call it a win for Nylander, whose camp did not take new Toronto general manager Brad Treliving’s first offers back in the summer, then flipped the pressure back on the club when he led it in points through 37 games in dominant fashion.
“Nice to know it’s done and I know where I’m going to stay the next eight years,” Nylander told a media horde at the Ford Centre.
While the deal was in its final stages the past few days, including an $11.5 million AAV, a full no- movement clause and carefully structured signing bonuses, the Swedish national said the magnitude of what was transpiring sank in during last week’s California road trip.
“I was talking to a friend about going home and I was referring to Toronto without even thinking about it. This is home now, the longest I’ve ever spent in one place. I want to achieve something special here.
“I didn’t do this by myself. Thank you to teammates and coaching staff.”
When the new pact kicks in next season, Nylander will be below Auston Matthews, ($13.25 million), and just ahead of John Tavares ($11 million) and Mitch Marner ($10.9 million).
The cap website PuckPedia posted that the first two years of Nylander’s deal are structured as a $3.5 million base and $10 million in signing bonuses and in 2032, at age 36, he’s still in line to make a million bucks base and $8 million in the bonus department.
Nylander did his part, picking up his strong playoff finish with 21 goals and 33 assists to date.
Treliving didn’t detail how he and Nylander’s principal agent, Lewis Gross, reached common ground, amid speculation the initial club offer was at or just below $10 million annually.
“I said when I got here, really good players are hard to get, hard to keep,” Treliving commented after Nylander spoke. “It’s a really good day for us, a top player just entering the prime of his career. I don’t know if there was ever an ‘a-ha!’ moment (in the talks). You arm wrestle, you go through the process. I don’t know if there was a time we weren’t committed to the finish line (meaning avoiding unrestricted free agency in July).”
There was a light-hearted official signing ceremony Monday morning at the rink where Treliving joked Nylander’s once more impressed him as calm and collected while putting pen to paper on the life-changing deal.
“You’ve got to give it to Willy. If I was that age with that kind of money, I might have slept here last night.
“We were serious, too. I told him you don’t need to change anything (in his game or demeanour), but it’s that old line ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. To me, he can take another step in his leadership.
“When you see him competing and playing a 200-foot game like our top guys do, the rest of the team follows. He continues to mature and when he’s at his best, there are very few better in the NHL.”
As many have pointed out, the Vegas Golden Knights were the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup with a $10-million player in Jack Eichel, while Toronto now has four of them, with just one playoff round win for that group since they started together in 2018-19.
Nylander reiterated he’s in it to win it here and have a big role in ending a 57-year championship drought.
Coach Sheldon Keefe said he was thrilled for Nylander, a first-round pick in 2014 whom he’s nurtured since he was a 19-year-old Toronto Marlie farmhand.
“Sometimes his actions haven’t met his ambitions,” Keefe noted. “And we had to push him (even bench him on occasion). The points potential has always been there, (now) he’s taken his game to another level.”
There is some relief for Treliving in that the cap rises to $87.7 million next year, but Nylander’s bump from this year’s $6.9 million will eat that up, as will more money due Matthews under his deal, with Marner and Tavares still at their max prior to renewed contracts by the summer of 2025.
“We can only tackle them one at a time,” Treliving said. “When I got here Auston was the priority (four years, $53 million), Willy was going into his final year and we were able to get those done. Now you see what’s next on the list.”
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