TORONTO, ON – APRIL 2: William Nylander #29 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on April 2, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Sabres 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** William Nylander

If you are not in the know, the Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to sign one of their “Big Three” William Nylander. The two sides are in an emphatic and seemingly endless contract dispute. Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan said in the most sugar coded way possible that Nylander must take a pay cut in order to help the Leafs build a winning team and sign Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Here’s the excerpt:

Shanny’s comments were met with mixed reactions. As you could probably imagine, this did more bad than good. At least that’s if you ask Rey Ferraro:

Former Maple Leaf Jeff O’Neill had a different idea of what he would be doing after those comments:

As of now, Nylander and his representation seem to be taking Ferraro’s viewpoint to heart. Unfourtantly for the Leafs, that leaves Nylander in limbo. As big of a deal this may be outside the rink, it doesn’t seem to matter much on the ice.

Auston Matthews has been named the NHL’s first star of the week. John Tavares has scored six goals. Mitch Marner is feeding the puck to anyone and everyone. Morgan Rielly is doing his job on both sides of the ice. Kasperi Kapanen looks to be filling Nylander’s role well. The Leafs brass notices his absence, but at the same time, do they really miss him?

Now, most of Leafs Nation will say, “Dang right we miss good ol’ Willy!” After all, he is a part of the Leafs famed “Big Three”. Fans bought the jerseys and bought into the #Shanaplan. They knew in the coming years that some players would become expendable. Some thought it would be Nazem Kadri who would get traded. Most wanted it to be Jake Gardiner. The new reality is if there’s anyone who will have to go, it’ll be the Swedish Dazzler.

The Leafs’ Defense

Leaf fans know that their defense is a mess. On a good day, it can be average. On a bad day, it can look like a beer league decided to show up to the ACC, no sorry, I mean the Scotia Bank Arena. In short, it can be scarier than Flyers’ new mascot Gritty after three coffees.

The defense needs stability, especially on the right side. No, the defense doesn’t need another two-way d-man. It doesn’t need another offensive d-man. It needs a stay-at-home defenseman that can solidify a top-two pairing with Rielly.

Will the Leafs get that offering up Nylander? They could if they pull the right strings.

The Cap

The Leafs cap situation is going to be very tight. Marner will make his case for getting paid north of $8 million USD. Matthews is going to want a contract similar to Leafs newcomer John Tavares. It is being reported that Nylander will not budge down from his $8 Million per year asking price. If all four of those players signed the contracts mentioned above, about 50 per cent of the cap would be occupied by those four. That would leave $30 some odd million USD to improve on the rest of the roster. That isn’t much. Before you know it, Frederik Andersen‘s contract will be up. So will Rielly’s. Where are they going to get the money in those coming years to re-sign those key members of their team whilst improving other areas of their team?

At this point, it makes more sense to deal Nylander and get a defenseman, make a run for the Cup, and deal with those tough times when they come. It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but in the end, that’s how it going to be. Mind you, once the playoffs come, all memories of the trade will be lost, especially if it turns out well for the Leafs.

It’s better to cash in on the cow while it still has most of its meat.

What can the Leafs expect in a trade?

Nowadays, pulling off “blockbuster” trades are a rarity. That being said, when there’s a will, there’s a way. A lot of teams in the NHL would love to have a winger like Nylander. And there are some teams that do happen to have a surplus of defensemen. Nashville, Anaheim, and Carolina, just to name a few. Maybe Toronto might be interested in a Tyson Barrie trade? It’s not like the Leafs don’t have options.

In terms of value, Nylander does bring a lot to the table. He can skate well. He has a high hockey IQ. Scouts have said Nylander has a shot to die for. Teams can slide Nylander down the middle of the ice. Nylander could quarterback a powerplay. His defensive skills are not elite per se. There’s still some work to be done. It almost feels as if Nylander could be an easy lock for 60 points. That’s valuable to any team.

In a trade, the Leafs could command a highly touted defenseman. In this day-and-age, where defensemen’s values are up to the wing-wang, Toronto will have to throw something else on their side to even things out. That being said, Nylander could fetch a hefty return. Obviously, the Leafs aren’t really looking for prospects and draft picks anymore. They are in a win-now situation. That means they’ll probably want established NHL talent that can come in and instantly approve the team, and if I’m right, that’s what they’ll get in time.

It’s a win-win situation for both sides. Nylander deserves to get paid. It’s hard to sit here and encourage a player to take a pay cut. What if he gets hurt long term and it affects him in eight years when his UFA time comes? It makes all the sense in the world for both sides to hold out when pinning it down to that. It’s not a matter of if he wants to play in Toronto. I can assure he does. It’s a matter of if they’ll pay him. As it sits now, it looks like they won’t.

The fix

Open the phone lines and get the trade talks going. It’ll benefit both sides and help fix the Leafs’ biggest problem, their defense. It seems like every game Leafs fans watch, there’s some kind of defensive breakdown. It’s almost like it’s trying to say, “You can’t see me.” Come playoff time, that’ll be nothing but trouble. Opponents will be laughing and management will be sighing.

If management can take a stab at fixing that whilst helping out Nylander in his quest to get paid, the odds of teams respecting the Leafs will greatly increase. Come playoff time, the only thing Leafs Nation wants to be saying is, “If you want some, come get some,” and strike some fear into the eyes of their opponents. Much like their powerplay does now.

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