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Weighing the William Nylander question

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Could the Flyers get him? Should they? What would it take?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was only a matter of time before we got here, right?

Ever since Kyle Dubas showed up at that Flyers-Avalanche game last month, talks of the Flyers getting William Nylander have been spinning. And, with the December 1 deadline to sign if he wants to play this season drawing nearer and nearer, it’s impossible to completely rule out this possibility. So we’re diving right into this thought experiment. What if the Flyers are in on the bid for Nylander, and what would it take for them to get him?

As one might expect, the ask for Nylander won’t be a low one—per Darren Dreger, the Leafs are asking for a top 4 defenseman and a top 9 forward in exchange for the 22 year old forward. And, well the Flyers do have some of those. Let’s break down the possibilities.

Let’s start with the defensemen, because that’s arguably the Leafs’ biggest need, presently.

It’s got to be Ivan Provorov that they want, right? A young gun for a young gun?

That would make sense, if we just kept the reasoning there. But Provorov might not be as good of a fit as you might think. The Leafs, if they were to move Nylander would be doing so because he’s just asking for too much money, and with Provorov being a top pairing defenseman and all, it’s hard to imagine him commanding less than what Nylander’s asking for. So they’d be trading his cap stretch for another.

Besides, the Leafs’ current roster is pretty well stocked with LHD at present, and they have a couple more presumably on the way (like Rasmus Sandin, Andreas Borgman, and/or Calle Rosen). So, if anything, one would think they’d want to bolster the right side, especially considering how much Mike Babcock loves to balance handedness.

Okay, so we’ll flip sides on (well, what should be) that top pair. What about Shayne Gostisbehere?

That would certainly be a reasonable ask. He plays the right side. He’s on a reasonable contract ($4.5 million through 2022-23). And you might even be able to make an argument for him adding a bit of veteran leadership presence to a young team.

Would you?

I mean, that’s not really my slant. But one could do it.

So, Gostisbehere for Nylander, done deal.

Well, not quite. Gostisbehere would be a reasonable ask, but the question would remain of whether the Flyers would be willing to move him. Their top four has been dicey so far this season, and it feels like weakening it further by shipping off Gostisbehere would be a weird move. It’s not out of the question, I suppose. But it would be a little weird.

So what if we look outside of the top 4? What about Travis Sanheim?

Well it would make sense that they would want him over Radko Gudas, as he would more or less be a rental. And Sanheim did play the right side some in Juniors, so that’s not a completely new thing for him. They would need to extend him after this season, but considering his past production and him being as young as he is, it stands to reason that they would be able to get him on a relatively cheap deal, even with the first round pedigree.

If we wanted to nitpick, we could quibble that Sanheim is more or less young Jake Gardiner, who has frustrated the Leafs with some louder defensive mistakes in the past, and ask if they would want two Jake Gardiners. From a pure talent standpoint, you do that deal, but it’s a valid question.

But generally speaking, the fit makes sense. But it’s a similar sentiment as with Gostisbehere—would they want to part with this player, especially after they drafted him in the first round and spent all this time developing him? Maybe not. But who knows.

We’ve got a couple of righties down the farm too.

That is true.

And I did hear that Toronto’s had scouts at the Phantoms games recently.

I told you that, thx.

Okay fine. But anyway, would they have interest in Philippe Myers or Mark Friedman?

This one’s interesting, for sure. It might not necessarily help the Leafs in the now, unless they decide the Flyers are wrong and one of these guys is indeed NHL ready, but they certainly have good upside, and could be useful future pieces for the Leafs.

So we’ve got some options on the back end. What about the forward? What about… the only member of the core…

Don’t say it.

…without a no-move clause

The Leafs are not taking Jake Voracek. If they don’t want William Nylander at $8 million a year, they’re not going to take Voracek at $8.25 million. It’s just not going to happen.

It was worth a shot. What about Wayne Simmonds?

That one’s interesting. It might actually be a good fit, but there are a lot of ifs. You could see the Leafs potentially having interest if Simmonds is willing to go (remember, he has that modified no trade clause). And the Leafs would have to feel pretty confident that they’d be able to re-sign him after this season, and do so cheaply. They’re not just going to ship off a 22 year old for a rental.

That said, the fit could made sense. Simmonds still presents as a useful top-9 forward, and he does fill the “net-front presence” role that they lost with James van Riemsdyk’s departure, if they so desired bringing someone in for that. Plus, you know, leadership.

And then what if they wanted a prospect?

If it’s a prospect they want, I imagine it would be a center or right wing specifically, as they’re a little thinner in those areas. The right wing might be a little tougher—probably their best option would be one of Nicolas Aube-Kubel (still not sure what his NHL ceiling is, if it even is a top-9 ceiling) or Wade Allison (just coming off surgery and having only played in college). So while both have the potential to hit, they might be a gamble.

So, perhaps more likely, they’d want a center. And boy do we have a lot of those. The most sense to be asks in this deal would most likely be one of Mikhail Vorobyev, German Rubtsov, or Morgan Frost.

Vorobyev makes sense in that he would be the closest to NHL ready—he has a full year of professional experience under his belt, and let’s not forget that the Flyers deemed him NHL ready to start the season. He made the team out of camp. With his defensive responsibility, he would be a safe bet, but the question of his ceiling remains. Is he a 3C at the NHL level? Just a 4C? We’re getting into a space of conjecture with these prospect talks, and virtually none are a sure thing, so we may be beating this idea over the head. But we have to acknowledge the open questions and risk.

Rubtsov may grade out as a similar type of option as Vorobyev, defensively responsible but with the potential for more offense. The part where one might waver is on the fact that this season is really only the first one where we’ve seen him putting it all together—he didn’t exactly shine in his seasons in the QMJHL, despite his first round pedigree. Could they look past that and assume that his ceiling may well be that of a good middle sixer? Sure. But it could be a gamble, as well.

Oddly enough, the prospect who might seem like the least of a gamble is the one with exactly zero professional experience—one Morgan Frost. Like Rubtsov, he has the first round pedigree, but to this point he has been able to put it all together, has been dominant in the OHL since he was drafted. He projects as a middle six center, and this doesn’t feel much like a stretch. He isn’t a “safe player” in the way that Vorobyev and Rubtsov are, per their styles, but he may well be the safest in terms of projection, for a team wanting an impact player. (And, you can give as much weight as you want to the Soo connection with Frost and Dubas). But, all that said, the Flyers also see what we’ve just broken down, and he may well be the piece what they’re least willing to part with, of these five forward prospects.

So we’ve broken down a lot of potential options, here. There are a lot of ways to mix and match this deal, if they really want to get it done. But then there’s the real question, do you see it happening?

Honestly, not really. My heart of hearts tells me that Nylander gets resigned and stays in Toronto. They have all of the leverage, and it would make sense that, at the end of the day, he would want to stay, even if it means him taking a bit of a discount.

And, what’s more, just as much as the Flyers may not be willing to part with the pieces Toronto would be asking for, the Leafs may not really need them. For example, they could take one of the Flyers’ defensemen on a cheap contract of a couple million dollars per year, but they’re going to have players on entry level deals waiting to fill in on defense as soon as next year. Adding pieces could make them a bit more competitive in the now, but does it risk mortgaging their future? It’s complicated.

Could things get so toxic and contentious that the Leafs have no choice but to move Nylander? Sure. And the Flyers have the pieces to make that deal happen, and they’d be foolish to not even explore the possibility. But at the end of the day, continuity reigns in the realm of hockey, and Nylander staying in Toronto would be right in line with that.