With one day to go for the Toronto Maple Leafs to sign RFA William Nylander, it’s important to note the entire RFA system is a completely asinine.
The William Nylander/Toronto Maple Leafs saga is finally going to come to an end tomorrow, one way or another.
The Maple Leafs and the 22-year old Swede have been in a negotiation stalemate for the last several months, lasting over 26 games into the regular season. Nylander is holding out as a means to secure a better future for himself, with his potentially larger pay setting a foundation for the rest of his adult life.
The Leafs are trying to lock him up long-term and for less money in order to provide themselves some wiggle room next summer when signing the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson will be needed/
Yet, lost in the shuffle is just how ill-equipped young RFAs are for dealing with negotiations after their entry-level contract ends. The NHL’s system has handicapped young players from truly having a way to deal with teams until they become an unrestricted free agent.
No Play, No Pay
For those unaware, if an RFA does not sign a contract before the December 1st, 5:00 PM deadline, they will be ineligible to play for the rest of that season and, in Nylander’s case, not be permitted to play anywhere else in the world, as the Toronto Maple Leafs own his rights.
In Nylander’s situation, he may be an important cog in the Maple Leafs machine. But when it comes to signing Marner and Matthews, he is third on the list. While he has definitely proven himself in his first three seasons (135 points in 185 games), Nylander has the disadvantage of playing for a team that is trying to crunch on cap space, has multiple sources of offense (the team is 18-8-0 without him so far), and has all the leverage during contract talks.
The system handcuffs young players who think they are worth more their teams think they are. Nylander is not at fault for wanting what he believes he is due. If he’s going to sign a long-term extension, he wants to make sure he is making an amount that will set up a foundation for the rest of his life.
While we all have this view that NHL players love the game so much and that’s why they play, the NHL is their job. They play to get paid, it’s as simple as that. Passionate as they may be about their sport of choice, money is the driving factor for a majority of signings in the league, not passion.
Fans have a similar feeling about players like Nylander. He may seem larger than life, but he’s only 22-years old, and Marner and Matthews are both 21. They are still kids trying to work out how the world works. Just because they play hockey doesn’t mean they are more grown up or mature than any other 21 or 22-year old.
Now for players like Connor McDavid (Won a Hart Trophy, two Art Ross Trophies, two Ted Lindsey Awards and scored 256 points in his first three seasons) who are the primary source of their team’s offense, they have a way to haggle their team for a larger contract (Which he got: eight-years, $100 million).
There are also RFAs who are eligible for arbitration. In arbitration, a RFA and his team each put forth an AAV they believe is fair, then a third-party will determine the amount the player is worth, and the team will offer the player that amount. But only players who have been in the league for longer than four years can use this route.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Aren’t the Only Ones Doing This
Nylander’s negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be the last time we see something like this. Eventually another player will come along with similar statistics and enter a stalemate with an organization that sees the player is worth far less than he actually is. That player will end up signing, miss the season or possibly never play in the NHL again.
It’s an unfortunate truth that RFAs are undercut during the negotiations of their first real NHL contract, and teams are likely going to keep it that way in the future.
Thanks for reading!