Islanders: Examining trade with Maple Leafs for William Nylander

William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

Can the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs workout a William Nylander trade?

With the Columbus Blue Jackets eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round, we know changes are likely coming for the buds. To do so, they’re likely going to have to move one of their top four forwards. William Nylander is an interesting target for the New York Islanders.

The Islanders have a surplus of defensemen and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a surplus of top-end forwards. It’s a perfect match for a trade.

With all the rumors swirling around the Leafs after their exit from the post-season, I thought it would be fun to look at a player the Islanders could use (like Nylander), what they would have to ship out to get him, and why it may not happen.

Why Nylander?

Let me just list out the reasons why Nylander is an attractive trade target:

  • His cap hit is low with a $6.962 million AAV.
  • His actual payout is lower than his cap hit. Most of his contract was already paid. In the first two years of his deal, Nylander was paid $21 million of a total $45 million contract.
  • He put up 31 goals and 59 points in 68 games this year. That’s a 71 point pace.
  • His underlying numbers are great.
  • His ability to carry the puck into an attacking situation is underrated.
  • He just turned 24 in May.

Every one of those items checks a box for the New York Islanders. Nylander is a dynamic offensive player, he can transition well from defense to offense, he’s a right shot, and he carries a decent cap hit for what he brings to the table. He’s also still young enough to get better.

He’s the perfect target for the Islanders.

What’s it going to cost?

Like with any trade, matching needs with value is going to be difficult. Not to mention trying to navigate the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap. Both the Islanders and Leafs are close to the ceiling in 2020-21 with $8.119 million and $4.591 million in cap space, respectively.

Sportsnet’s Luke Fox believes that the Leafs are looking for the following aspects from a defenseman:

  • Right shot
  • Logs 20+ minutes a night
  • Penalty killer
  • Defense first mentality

And of course, a cheap cap hit is a must.

Looking at the Islanders roster and their system, there are four defensemen that could likely form the start of a package for Nylander: Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Thomas Hickey, or Noah Dobson.

All four of those players check off a number of the Leafs ‘wants’ including carrying a cheap cap hit.

It’s hard to see the Islanders dealing Adam Pelech away after how their 19-20 season crumbled in his absence. Noah Dobson is on deck for the NHL and should be a top-pair defenseman in a few years. The Islanders can’t trade Dobson. Not for Nylander at least.

That leaves Mayfield and Hickey. Mayfield makes the most sense for the Leafs. He’s a righty, he averaged 19:57 this season for the Islanders, he kills penalties and is a defense-first guy. He also carries a $1.45 million cap hit through 2022-23.

Mayfield alone won’t cut it for Nylander. Adding Bode Wilde and a first-round pick in 2021 to the deal seems like a good place to start. But that still adds $5.512 million to the Islanders cap.

What About Pulock?

I thought about a Ryan Pulock for Nylander trade. Straight up one-for-one. In terms of value, the deal works, but it starts to break apart after that.

Pulock checks off just about all of the Leafs ‘wants’. The only ‘knock’ (from a Leafs perspective) is that Pulock is owed a new contract and that contract won’t be cheap.

From an Islanders perspective, it’s hard to see them ship out their number one all-around defenseman without proper cover. Dobson should eventually fill that spot, but he’s not ready yet.

Again, in terms of value Nylander for Pulock works. But the only way the Islanders do that is if they feel Dobson is ready. With 34 games in 2019-20, I think we know where the organization stands on Dobson’s readiness to be a top pair guy in 2020-21.

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Why It Won’t Work

Obviously, just because both teams are good trade partners doesn’t mean they’ll make the deal.

The Leafs don’t have to trade one of their core offensive players, they could package some of their depth players like Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson with other pieces to pull a top-pair defender rather than a bottom-four defender like Scott Mayfield.

It’s also possible (likely even) that the Toronto Maple Leafs just roll the dice again and use the same group in 2020-21. After all, they have Rasmus Sandin, Mikko Lehtonen, and Timothy Liljegren that can step into the Leafs lineup in 2020-21.

The Islanders could also just as easily pass on Nylander and just bring up one of their prospects like Oliver Wahlstrom who could be a dynamic 30+ goal scorer in the league. With Wahlstrom’s contract sliding one-year his cap hit in 2020-21 would be $894,166. That’s a way more affordable option for the Islanders.

William Nylander is the exact type of player the Islanders could use. The Islanders could make this trade work.

But with the complicated nature of making this trade fit under the salary cap, it’s more likely that the Isles go with the Wahlstrom option rather than make this type of deal. And that’s perfectly fine if Wahlstrom is as advertised.