Trading Nylander Is A Difficult Task

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I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, Nylander has value on the trade market and to open up the capspace to improve the blueline to the degree that you’d want to improve it, you basically HAVE to include Nylander in any deal.

Full NMC’s for John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner would leave little choice in the matter as things stand today. If they’re going to move a big name forward to improve the blueline, their only option is, quite literally, Nylander.

If they wait until next summer it’s a completely different ball game. As it stands today they’ll have over $33M in capspace and while that would involve not having a starting goaltender signed, a bare bones group on the blueline and Nylander walking for nothing, it’s still a lot of money for a team to spend. Defenders that would have to walk in order to open up that $33M, in particular, would be John Klingberg and TJ Brodie, who are signed to a combined caphit or $9.15M. If you could allocate ~~$7M of that to the right top 4 defender if would really help the Leafs moving forward.

Which begs the question of who that defender may be.

Lets forget about the “Trading Nylander” part of the title for a moment and look at the defenders that are projected to be UFA next summer. This is a healthy exercise if you subscribe to the idea that the Leafs are better off with Nylander in their lineup and should look to fill the massive vacancy alongside Morgan Rielly every year in any way other than trading #88.

If you sort by minutes played over the 2022/23 season, the pending UFA RD that tops the list is Brandon Montour. With a 73pt breakout season under his belt, which all but doubled his previous season high of 37pts, Montour helped lead the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final this spring. If he lands anywhere close to those offensive numbers again he’ll be in very high demand next summer. However, he’ll be 30 years old next spring and, again, has never produced close to that number of points before. If he produces a ton of points again I wouldn’t have the confidence to say that he can do it over the course of a 4+ year contract and if he doesn’t hit those numbers again is he worth spending big money on?

I’d pass on the risk that Montour brings, especially considering you have Morgan Rielly to QB the PP and need help elsewhere.

There are actually a few names that would interest me, but two stand out….. a lot!!

Brett Pesce and Matt Roy.

Both are stay-at-home defenders that shoot right. Both could, in theory, play top pair minutes alongside Morgan Rielly. Also, both play the game a little differently. Roy is closer to your typical stay-at-home defender. He blocks more shots (Pesce blocks plenty as well) and hits far more, but he also plays less minutes per game, partly due to being stuck behind Drew Doughty. Neither one will produce much offense, but that wouldn’t be their job. They’re both the same age as Montour, 29, but because playing smart defensive hockey would be the aim here and because both have been successful at it for so long, I’d trust their ability to continue that trend more than I’d trust Montour to continue to produce with the elite defenders in the NHL.

There are a couple of other options as well, but any other UFA option will tend to be a little older or have been less consistent than Pesce and Roy. The older options include Chris Tanev (34) and Jani Hakanpaa (32), while the more inconsist player I’m talking about is Matt Dumba. If Pesce and Roy and re-signed by their current teams, which is exactly what I expect to happen, then the secondary options are definitely there and worth exploring, but that is in a world where the Leafs don’t trade Nylander.

What I’d like to explore now is the possibility of them moving on from #88, but that isn’t as easy as you’d expect.

There are, obviously, two routes to take if you’re looking to land a top 4 defender. You either have to aim for a player that is currently a top 4 defender, or one that projects to become one in the very near future. Considering the calibre of player they’d be moving, they would have to be absolutely certain of those projections if they opt for the latter.

For now we’ll talk about the current top 4 defenders on the market.

As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any. What fun!!

Obviously I don’t know who is actually available out there, but what I do know is that two expansion drafts over the past few years has helped to level the playing field.

Once upon a time you could scrounge through a team’s page on and surmise that a player may be available. Before long things would usually go the way people thought as well. Whether it was the Nashville Predators employing right shot defenders Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones at the same time, all of whom were eventually traded, or the Winnipeg Jets rolling with Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, also of the right shot defender variety, eventually things had to give. There isn’t a single case of that in the NHL right now though. Sure, there are instances where a team is deep at a position. I’ll keep referring to right side defense because the left side is historically easier to fill and again, I believe thats where the Leafs first priority should lie, and use the New Jersey Devils as an example. With Dougie Hamilton and John Marino in their top 4 and Colin Miller as a solid 3rd pair option, the Devils are sitting pretty on the right side. Add to that the fact that Simon Nemec, the 2nd overall selection from the 2022 draft, could be NHL ready as early as this season and things are looking very good, but Nemec isn’t in the NHL yet, so I’m not sure that they’ll look to make a move there until he is.

It’s near impossible to find a team that would be motivated to trade a defender, but worse is that if they did find that team they would then have to fight the cap in order to make it happen.

We’ll use the aforementioned Brett Pesce and the Carolina Hurricanes as an example. There are probably a lot of fans on either side of the deal that would do a one-for-one swap of those players. Pure defense for pure offense. Personally, I believe it’s tougher to find pure offense, so the Leafs would have to get more back in the deal than just Pesce, but good defenders aren’t cheap, so I wouldn’t argue against a different viewpoint.

The problem is, simply, that Pesce makes 4M to Nylanders 7M and both teams are up against the ceiling. While that doesn’t seem to be a big bridge to cross, you have to consider exactly how they could even things out. Add a $3M player? Sure. The Canes have 3 that are in that vicinity. Their captain, Jordan Stall, makes $2.9M, but he has a NMC. Jesper Fast is at $2.4M, but has a full NTC. Martin Necas, who would be ideal for the Leafs, makes $3M, perfect…… except he’s 24 and just produced 71pts last season, quite the “toss in” to even things up, eh? No, Necas would make a mess of the value from each side and is likely off limits. Literally everybody else on the roster is making too little or too much for the deal to work. We could discuss how they could make the deal much bigger, but massive trades like that rarely happen due to the complexity of it all.

This situation is what you’ll find in every scenario in which the defender coming back is already a legitimate top 4 defenseman. In fact, there are just 6 defenders that are +/- $1M of Nylanders $7M AAV and don’t have trade protection. They are Thomas Chabot, Quinn Hughes, Dmitry Orlov, Vince Dunn, Ivan Provorov and Mattias Ekholm. Orlov and Provorov just moved teams, while Ekholm is too important to the Oilers. Hughes and Dunn are massive pieces for their respective teams and would leave too big a void upon their departure, which leaves Chabot, who is the property of the Leafs’ provincial rival. I’m not sure thats a deal that either team would be comfortable making. This is what you’re faced with if you don’t want too big of a cap hurdle.

The option then is to have a 3rd team enter into the deal to serve as a go-between in order to retain salary. The question looms of what the price of that would be and who incurrs that cost. Considering that there are just 8 teams in the NHL that have over $2M in capspace, it’s a great market for those teams to ask for valuable assets in order to facilitate any deal.

Lastly, we’ll skip back to talking about trading for a player that is not yet a top 4 defender.

Immediately we’re faced with continuing to speak about capspace issues. Any player that is projected to be, but is yet to become a top 4 defender in the NHL, is usually on a team that is in a rebuild or just coming out of one.

If a rebuilding team, such as the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks have players that project to be top 4 defensemen, they’re not about to trade them for a winger in his late 20s thats in the final year of his contract and is playing hardball (again) at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, teams like the L.A. Kings and New York Rangers may have prospects and/or roster players that fit the bill (think L.A.’s Brandt Clarke or the Rangers’ Brayden Schneider), but in their attempt to jump into the playoff race over the last couple of years, both teams have added big ticket players, so neither will have the capspace to trade for Nylander. As is the case with Carolina, trading in the post-covid cap era is near impossible.

Simply put, the more you objectively look at a William Nylander trade, the less likely one appears to be. No team lines up as the perfect trade partner. Whether it’s due to the lack of suitable players, prospect, capspace and/or an unsavoury situation, it’s far too easy to give reasons as to why a team wouldn’t want Nylander, rather than why they would.