If the Leafs trade Nylander this summer, there are some solid options remaining to replace him in free agency
BY MIKE ARMENTI JULY 20, 2023 (9:34)
With that sort of a gap between the two sides, there are some wondering whether or not a deal will even get done at this point and, after losing Johnny Gaudreau during free agency just one year ago after a lengthy negotiation, one has to wonder whether or not Leafs GM Brad Treliving has the appetite for another long, drawn-out negotiation that doesn't end up going his way again.
Rather than losing Nylander for nothing, there are many who think that dealing Nylander is the right move for the Leafs this summer. However, with most teams having already spent a lot of their money, and with Nylander's 10-team no-trade list kicking in on July 1st, moving him is a lot more difficult now than it was at the draft.
The possibility still exists that we could see a hockey trade, where Nylander is moved for a player, or players, in a hockey trade that doesn't involve futures, since the Leafs are in "win now" mode. However, if the best package for Nylander did include multiple future pieces, the Leafs can still find a suitable replacement via free agency that will come in well below Nylander's reported $10M+ ask.
The two names that stand out as possible options to step in at 2nd line RW should the Leafs opt to move Nylander for futures are Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko. Both players were dealt to the New York Rangers last season ahead of the deadline, but with the Rangers having just over $2.2M in remaining cap space with Alexis Lafreniere still in need of a new contract, it's quite possible that the Rangers will not be able to re-sign either of Kane or Tarasenko.
Naturally, the Leafs aren't in a much better financial position, currently more than $8.8M over the cap, but once we factor in Muzzin landing on LTIR and the expected Matt Murray buyout, which should cover Ilya Samsonov's new contract, the Leafs moving Nylander's near $7M cap hit will put the team well under the salary cap and leave them with money to spend, which can be increased by moving some money elsewhere on the roster if need be.
Tarasenko and Kane are both former Stanley Cup champions, and while neither are as young and spry as Nylander is, they're certainly good stop-gap options should Nylander refuse to put pen to paper this summer and force Treliving to trade him a year ahead of free agency.
With both Tarasenko and Kane being in their 30's, I don't think we're going to see any cap hits exceeding $5M-$6M, especially this late into the summer. For Kane, we also know that he's coming off of offseason surgery on his hip, which could drive his price down even lower, given the fact that he may only play the 2nd half of the season. Kane finished his season with 57 points in 73 games, while Tarasenko potted 50 points in 69 games.
I'll be the first to admit that neither is an upgrade on Nylander at this stage of their respective careers, but I'd rather get something for Nylander than to watch him walk away, so if the best package is one that consists primarily of futures, pivoting to Tarasenko or Kane is certainly an option that keeps the Leafs competitive now and allows them to avoid losing Nylander for nothing if a hockey deal doesn't materialize this summer.