While it would seem unlikely, the Maple Leafs are looking for help along the blue line. Could the LA Kings pluck William Nylander in a trade?
The NHL playoffs officially kicked off on Tuesday evening, after all the play-in series concluded. One team that had high hopes may be desperate to repair a weak link, and the LA Kings could take advantage. The Toronto Maple Leafs were ousted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, with defense apparently optional for the Leafs.
There’s been much discussion after their early exit that Toronto could be willing to part with a key piece of their franchise for the sake of shoring up their defense. Names that have been linked include both Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Now, I need to preface this with the LA Kings may not be the best trade partner with the Leafs, especially for defense and especially since they aren’t going be parting with either Drew Doughty or Matt Roy anytime soon. Still, there’s a scenario in here somewhere that could be attractive, but not ideal, for both squads.
The 24-year-old centerman was drafted eighth overall in 2014 by the Leafs, and he was given a six-year extension worth $42M before the 2018-2019 season. The contract was front-loaded, and already through the worst two years, so if traded, the Kings would be responsible for $6M AAV for the next four seasons.
He’d be an immediate upgrade along the second line, with the potential to take over for Anze Kopitar on the first line one day. Most recently, Nylander tallied 31 goals with 28 assists for 59 points in 68 games this year. He’s great on the man advantage, having scored nine of his 31 goals in such scenarios.
He’s consistently had favorable CorsiFor percentages and CorsiRel values and would help the Kings produce goals, which they struggled to do in the 2019-2020 campaign, finishing with the second-worst goal total (177).
As noted, the Kings aren’t parting with Doughty or Roy, leaving Sean Walker and Ben Hutton – assuming he’s re-signed – as favorable options with notable NHL experience. Regarding Hutton, the Kings and Leafs could also work out a sign and trade sort of deal.
The Kings also have Tobias Bjornfot, one of the league’s top defensive prospects, who is expected to transition into a full-time role next year, as is Kale Clague and Mikey Anderson.
The upside to trading for Nylander is that he greatly improves the offense. The downside is now defense becomes an immediate concern. A straight-up trade won’t get the deal done, so the Kings would likely have to include a couple of high draft picks. That or include Gabriel Vilardi in the deal, who is expected to take over 2C duties next year, to one, sweeten the deal, and two, prevent players like Alex Turcotte and Rasmus Kupari, among others, from being blocked.
I could draft up trade scenarios all day. None of them are going to be perfect, for either club. And while I don’t expect the Kings to be active in the free-agent or trade market, especially for a guy like Nylander, I’ve also seen stranger things happen. But I do know that Toronto is going to desperately be looking for defensive help.
Other teams could likely matchup better, but the Kings have the prospects, attractive NHL talent, and draft picks that could potentially get a deal done.