Whether Maple Leafs’ restricted free agent forward William Nylander is truly on the trade market or not is anyone’s guess. But that shouldn’t stop GM Voltron and the Hurricanes from trying to acquire the player.

Nylander

Through 14 games, the Canes have a grand total of one goal from a right-handed forward: Justin Williams (game 5 against MIN) in a 6-on-5 situation. The line-up could use a right-handed scoring threat that didn’t play on the blueline.

Nylander the Player

Nylander has scored 22 and 20 goals in his two full-NHL seasons. More importantly, he’s a dynamic player who can produce with a talented center. Sebastian Aho could use a righty on his wing, leading to passing plays across the slot to get goalies moving.

Also worth consider Nylander was projected as a center. If Martin Necas were ready to contribute offensively now, I wouldn’t have to revisit the Elias Lindholm conundrum. While Party Nacos and Victor Rask remain out of the lineup it’s worth considering. In spot duty with Auston Matthews out with injury last season, he was OK. 

But like Aho, Nylander may be better served playing wing to contribute more offensively. Matthews scored 61 even strength goals the previous two season with him on his right wing. It’s no accident that Nylander had 56 even-strength assists in that time. He wasn’t a passenger being carried by his center. He helped carry the scoring load all while playing an average of 16:30 minutes.

Aho isn’t in the same conversation as the Toronto number one center, but it’d say concerns about Sepe’s scoring could be put to rest with another more proven offensive player.

Nylander the RFA

All this leads to the $64,000 question: Would Nylander sign with Carolina?

Jacob Trouba signed with the Winnipeg Jets on November 7, 2016 after missing the team’s first 13 games. Ryan O’Reilly missed 19 games in 2013 in the lockout-shortened season, but only 53 days after a new CBA was ratified — which brought a different set of circumstances to his negotiations. Don’t forget about the Calgary Flames Offer sheet fiasco.

P.K. Subban faced a similar challenge in the 2013 season. Though he only missed six games prior to his Norris Trophy-winning season, his bridge deal did lay the groundwork for his massive home-run contract two seasons later. That third contract ended up being his ticket to Nashville.

In each of those three contract stalemates, money didn’t seem to be the major holdup to putting pen to paper. There were other issues holding things up. Seeing as Nylander has missed his team’s first 14 games (as of November 5, 2018) I image that’s the same issue here.

He would have signed a contract with Toronto before training camp had the team not signed John Tavarse on July 1. It’d be difficult to prove that to me wrong given what we know publicly. 

I presume he’s reluctant to sign any long-term deal while taking a Brendan Shanahan-mandated discount with no contract protection (no trade, no move). Signing that long-term deal would make him a more valuable trade asset in the event Toronto GM Kyle Dubas needs to make a move to improve his defense.

By signing long-term, or even signing any crazy offer sheet that would be immediately matched by Toronto since they have cap room in 2018-19, he’s sacrificing control, leverage for something below market value. 

Those are two issues that wouldn’t be an issue in Carolina. The franchise would be in no position to deal a 60+ point player just coming off an ELC. Despite Derek’s future salary cap concerns, paying him around $7 Million AAV would not be an issue in my mind. Acquired Nylander is making a commitment to finding “better players” — one of Tom Dundon’s mantras — than those currently on the roster.

Nylander is more of a sure thing than even Andrei Svechnikov. So while the front office has to forecast their salary cap several years down the road, it should never stand of the way of a transaction that will help the team today.

If the continuous rumors are true concerning the Hurricanes’ level of interest, I hope that would mitigate any issues over potential contract hangups between the club and the Nylander camp. While I still believe his desire is to remain a Maple Leaf, I think he’s prepared to move on if it means selling himself short on his next contract.

One other item to consider: the Philadelphia Flyers are also said to be interested and have the assets necessary to make a deal. I’m not going to discuss possibilities in a deal between Toronto and Philly. Those potential details are irrelevant.

What is relevant is control of the Metropolitan Division is going to be in flux the next three years. With Washington and Pittsburgh on the gradual decline (though it doesn’t seem like it yet), there is room for rebuilding teams like Carolina and Philly to take their place as atop of the hill. Staying a step ahead of the Flyers would give the Hurricanes an edge in the short and long-term.

The Willy Nilly trade details

The idea of losing a player with whom you have an emotional attachment sucks. End of story. But it’s a situation that will continue to happen again and again if the Hurricanes are going to become relevant again.

Brett Pesce will be the cornerstone to any deal with Toronto. That’s a given at this point. Unlike most, I’ve considered him the top defensive trade option for quite some time.

While he’s a steady NHL defenseman, his contributions can be replaced. Moving either Pesce or Justin Faulk (who I believe could still be moved, but isn’t a target for the Leafs) opens the door for newly acquired prospect Adam Fox to sign a contract and join the club immediately after Harvard’s season ends this spring.

Having a Top-4 spot on a team hopefully in the playoff hunt will make it more enticing for Fox to sign his entry-level contract and use his first-year next spring. 

Unfortunately, this will not be a 1-for-1 transaction. Toronto would need a top-six forward in return. I’m guessing this is a major reason for Dubas’ reluctance to make a deal to this point.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Teuvo Teravainen’s name entered in the rumor mill. Zykov, Warren Foegele, or Julien Gauthier won’t get a deal done.

Turbo might. Nylander is an upgrade over Teravainen for the Canes based on production to date and his age. This could provide the talent Toronto would need coming back in a deal.

Acquiring a Restricted Free Agent at season’s end isn’t ideal for the Leafs. They have seven on the roster now. But, by moving Nylander now, the door would be open to finalize a Matthews extension. With that in place, it becomes easier to sign Mitch Marner since a Teravainen extension would come in below what the Leafs must have budgeted for Nylander.

The biggest hangup to a deal at that point would be the additional assets coming from Toronto. Not sure what else GM Voltron would demand, but it’d need to be something pretty intriguing. I feel this is why we hear reports of two to three scouts from Carolina at every recent Leafs game. This will be a big transaction if it comes to fruition.

Could Nylander spark the Canes?

After 14 games it’s clear having a deep defense isn’t good enough to win games. Unless they’re prepared to play link Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders, this group needs something else.

As a fan or a paying customer, I prefer high-risk, high-reward hockey. The type of hockey that head coach Rod Brind’Amour hinted at during September and first two weeks of October. I think Nylander fits right into that style with risks.

Nylander has been criticized as a soft or not-hard-working on-ice player. I view him in the same light as Teravainen — doesn’t engage physically, preferring to stay in soft areas of the ice.  But that’s how he has produced a lot of his points — being in the position to score or pass immediately after getting the puck. 

Adding another new player to the room, potentially subtracting two others poses a new challenges after the ‘culture’ transformation during training camp. A transaction at this point would speak volumes to the room and to the league the front office won’t sit back and wait. And it allows the group time to work through lineup changes before entering the last third of the year.

When the offensive dries up like it has over the last eight or nine games — a bit earlier than I would have guessed — you have to look at acquiring the top available offensive players on the trade market.