Columbus Blue Jackets, Johnny Gaudreau, Toronto Maple Leafs, William Nylander

Maple Leafs’ Nylander Needs to Learn Lessons From Gaudreau

William Nylander has been nothing short of spectacular this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His 18-game point streak came to an end on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, against the Chicago Blackhawks, which saw him register a point in every game since the start of the season. While it has been awesome to see, and you hoped it would have gone on for longer, the question that now starts to arise is, what will he cost to re-sign?

Nylander has played himself into the $10 million-plus range for his new average annual value (AAV) with his excellent play so far this season. With the questions swirling, you have to think that it may be time to get him locked up in case he keeps playing this well and continues to ask for more per season.

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If the Maple Leafs were able to lock him up for $10 million over eight seasons, it could prove to be a good contract if he can stay consistent. However, the next question is, what if he has a massive decline in production and drops back under the $10 million AAV range? Unfortunately, that is part of the challenge of letting his contract negotiation process ride out this long. If one thing is true in all of this, it is that Maple Leafs general manager (GM) Brad Treliving has recent experience with a pending unrestricted free-agent (UFA) contract situation, so he may be able to use that to get Nylander signed.

Additionally, Nylander could look at Johnny Gaudreau’s situation with the Columbus Blue Jackets and learn that having more money or even being closer to home sometimes isn’t better or more comfortable than the situation you currently are in. So, let’s see what Nylander can learn from Gaudreau’s UFA decisions.

Gaudreau Choose Columbus over Calgary

During Treliving’s time with the Calgary Flames, he had the same situation occur in 2021–22. Gaudreau was a pending UFA and waited the entire season to sign, and at the last possible minute, on June 30, 2022, he decided to test free agency to move closer to home. He ultimately ended any chance of re-signing with the Flames. He is a New Jersey native and chose to sign with the Blue Jackets since it is an hour-long flight rather than a four-and-a-half-hour flight from Calgary to see his family. However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and he is learning that with the Blue Jackets. 

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Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The team struggled in his first year and, as a result, received the third overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft. This year, they sit last in the Eastern Conference with a 6-11-4 record in 21 games, and he is struggling himself. He has been a victim of benching, and it may be hard to find him on the score sheet. He has two goals and seven assists for nine points, which puts him on a 35-point pace this season. This will be his worst season in terms of point production over his 11-year career. Last season, he had 74 points in 80 games, which had fans of the Blue Jackets excited; however, this season has shown that once a player loses confidence, it is hard to get it back. 

Related: Maple Leafs Have Franchise Altering Trade Chip in Nylander

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When Gaudreau left the Flames, he was at his peak, having just finished an impressive season with 115 points while playing on a line with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, leading the Flames to the playoffs. This was a career-high in goals, assists, and points for him, and it’s uncertain if he’ll ever surpass it. This makes me wonder if Gaudreau made the right choice by prioritizing his career and being closer to his family over staying with an organization he was comfortable with.

What Nylander Can Learn

As previously mentioned, Nylander is currently a pending unrestricted free agent. Due to his impressive performance so far, there is a possibility that he may play himself out of Toronto. Fans of the Leafs are hoping that he will sign a contract to remain with the team for the next four to eight seasons, as he is a standout player for the club. However, there is one major obstacle preventing a contract agreement from being reached: his average annual value (AAV). In my opinion, Nylander could learn from Gaudreau’s situation in Columbus and use that knowledge to potentially sign a long-term contract with the Maple Leafs instead of leaving simply to pursue a higher salary elsewhere.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The situations of Nylander and Gaudreau are a bit different. Nylander’s family lives in Sweden, and the closest place he could call home other than that is Calgary, where he was born. On the other hand, Gaudreau’s family lives in the US, so it makes sense for him to want to be closer to home. If Nylander leaves the Maple Leafs organization, it will likely be for more money. However, he has expressed his desire to stay in Toronto, saying on Sept. 21, 2023, “I want to be here, this is where I want to play. I’ve only known Toronto, and this is the place I want to be.”

Related: Maple Leafs Could Use Both Tanev & Zadorov From the Flames

Considering that he is most comfortable playing in Toronto with the club, it is crucial for Nylander to weigh his options carefully. While Gaudreau has struggled in his second year of the new deal, Nylander appears to be the ideal player to handle the heat of the Maple Leafs market. It is in Nylander’s best interest to stay with the team’s core members and work towards winning, which has eluded the team since the 1967 Stanley Cup.

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Nylander has previously been in the same situation as Gaudreau; he was benched and faced criticism from the media until this season, when his hot start put an end to it. I don’t think he would want to join another team and risk falling into the same situation he faced earlier in his career. This is precisely why both Nylander and Treliving can learn from the contract negotiations between Gaudreau and the Flames, as well as the current situation with the Blue Jackets.

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