Toronto Maple Leafs: What William Nylander’s 10th Game Means

William Nylander will play in his 10th game for the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the process using up the first year of his entry-level contract.

William Nylander is scheduled to play in his 10th NHL game on Thursday against the visiting Florida Panthers, costing the Toronto Maple Leafs a full year of control on the young prospect. However, it might not be such a bad idea.

The news was confirmed by Chris Johnston, insider for Sportsnet:

With year one of his entry-level contract underway, Nylander will now become a restricted free agent in 2018 instead of 2019, and will be eligible to walk away from the Leafs as an unrestricted free agent in 2022. At first glance, this appears to be the wrong move for the rebuilding franchise.

The Leafs are not playing for anything this year and are throwing away a whole year of control over a highly-touted prospect for, what appears to be, in-game NHL experience for him. Nylander will be 25-years old, instead of 26, and just entering his prime when he will have the option to leave Toronto and sign with another team.

However, this is likely a very calculated move by the front office.

When Nylander reaches restricted free agent status, contract extension talks will begin and chances are he will be cheaper in 2018 than he would be in 2019. The likelihood of him having a breakout year during his entry-level deal is reduced, because he will not play as many games in that contract if it starts right now.

The closer a player is to the end of their entry-level deal, the more likely a contract extension will be signed, and extending a younger player can pay huge dividends.

At 20 years old, Tyler Seguin signed a six-year, $34 million contract extension, averaging at $5.75 million a season. His teammate and captain, Jamie Benn, signed his own contract extension at the age of 23 for $26.25, an average of $5.25 million per year, and the Stars are currently feasting on the fruits of their young stars’ labour.

The top five leading scorers in the NHL along with their annual salaries are:

  1. Patrick Kane – $10.5 million.
  2. Jamie Benn – $5.25 million.
  3. Erik Karlsson – $6.5 million.
  4. Tyler Seguin – $5.75 million.
  5. Sidney Crosby – $12 million.

Seguin and Benn have each put up more points than Sidney Crosby. In addition, both of their salaries combined cost less than Crosby’s, and only half a million more than Patrick Kane alone.

As for the only other player in that list averaging under $10 million year?

Sep 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (62) skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

At 22, Erik Karlsson also signed a contract extension prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent. However, his contract was higher than the other two, because of the 78-point breakout year he had.

Unlike the others, Nylander may never land in the top-five in scoring, but if the Leafs want to keep him to a lower contract, then burning his first year right now may not be such a bad idea. From a developmental point of view, the NHL might be the best place for him right now.

The Calgary, Alberta native has only played 37 games in the AHL this year, and still sits at 26th in scoring with 45 points. In comparison, Chris Bourque leads that league in scoring, with 66 points in 54 games.

If Nylander has learned all he can at the minor league level, then the final 14 games of the season can only be beneficial to him.

The Leafs are rolling the dice by playing Nylander in his 10th career game tomorrow night. In a couple of years they could lock him down at a team-friendly price, or he could walk away from the team a season earlier than originally anticipated.

Do you think William Nylander should stay with the big club for the rest of the season, or would you have preferred to see him return to the Marlies? Let us know in the comments below.