The Toronto Maple Leafs made a huge investment last week when they finally sealed the deal with star winger William Nylander with an eight-year, $92 million contract extension. The two sides had been working at it for a while, but the job eventually got done.
Nylander repeatedly mentioned he wanted to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs, so he sure was a man of his words in the end.
In doing so, the Leafs have now locked in two of their main “core four” for the next four years through to the 2027-28 NHL season, as Auston Matthews had previously signed his four-year, $53 million extension of his own this past summer.
What Nylander’s Extension With the Toronto Maple Leafs Means for Marner and Tavares
One thing is for certain, it will be close to impossible to have both Marner and Tavares to ink long-term contracts with an AAV greater than what they are making right now once their current ones expire after the 2024-25 season.
With Nylander ($11.5 million AAV) and Matthews ($13.25 million AAV) combining for close to $25 million of yearly cap space, and with Marner currently at $10.9 million AAV and Tavares at $11 million AAV, if both Marner and Tavares get pay raises in their next contracts with the team, the core four will practically make up greater than 50% of the team’s cap space in the coming years no matter how high the projected cap is being raised.
With so much resources put into just four players, the Leafs will be forced to make smart decisions at the bottom of their roster. As we have seen for the last several years, it's not that hard to do. Still, the Leafs will need to make a tough decision on the futures of both Marner and Tavares with the team.
If the Leafs want to remain strong competitors for the Stanley Cup while maintaining the core four beyond the 2024-25 season, they will need one of Marner or Tavares to take a little less to allow the team to keep the necessary supplementary pieces to maintain them in the upper echelon in the league.
If so, with Marner entering his prime and still producing at a high points rate, it will likely be Tavares that needs to take one for the team to keep the core four intact. After all, Tavares will turn 35 prior to the 2025-26 season and has begun to show signs of slowing down this current season with just 12 goals and 34 points in 40 games after averaging usually close to a point a game in his career. In particular, his defence has been suspect as of late due to predominantly a decreasing speed factor. (All stats from NHL.com and CapFriendly.com)
However, if neither player is willing to take a pay cut, then one of them will need to be traded to help balance the books for the coming years for the Leafs.
In such case, trading Marner would be the ideal option. Not only will his contract be the bigger one of the two, Marner would give the Leafs the most value in the return that they would get from the trade. That way, despite breaking up the core four in that scenario, the Leafs could fill the right pieces of their missing puzzle to address their main needs and make the team more complete, rather than the current setup focusing mainly on offensive star power.
In either case, don’t look for it to happen any time soon, as the Leafs will primarily focus on getting into the playoffs in the coming months. For that to happen, they will need both Marner and Tavares at their very best. But once the offseason rolls around, look for the potential franchise-altering decision to start kicking in soon.