Former NHL veteran Michael Peca knows what it is like to miss an entire season in the prime of his career. At 26, the center sat out the entire 2000-01 season after being unable to come to an agreement with the Buffalo Sabres.
No player has forfeited a whole season in a similar fashion since,. And Peca believes there's more than just this season on the line for William Nylander; his future with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization would be beyond repair if the sides fail to reach an agreement soon.
RUMOR ROUNDUP: Maple Leafs, William Nylander nearing point of no return
“I don’t see how it can be repaired if they make you sit the year,” Peca told Sporting News in a phone interview Thursday. “As the player, how do you turn around and say, ‘well I missed the whole season missing X amount of dollars so I guess I’ll come back for that lower amount now.’ That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it just makes no sense to me.”
If Nylander is not signed to a contract filed with the NHL’s Central Registry by 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, he will be rendered ineligible to play for the duration of the 2018-19 regular season and playoffs.
So how does this situation play out? Ultimately, if Nylander ends up sitting out the entire season, it will be his decision to do so. The Maple Leafs want the 22-year-old, who is a very productive player with 61 points in each of his past two seasons, back in their already impressive lineup. But with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner each requiring lucrative new contracts this offseason, and John Tavares already on the books for $11 million per season for the next six years, they cannot afford to overpay. General manager Kyle Dubas will not capitulate and has a threshold in mind for a contract that the team will not surpass.
“It would be [Nylander’s decision],” Peca noted. “I don’t see how the team feels it’s in any more advantageous position if they make the kid sit the season, come next offseason. I’m sure at that point everything is dead and the kid will never play for the Maple Leafs again, so a trade is the only option after that anyway."
However, if the Maple Leafs and Nylander cannot come to an agreement, should the trade happen prior to Dec. 1? Conventional wisdom suggests that it would be prudent for Toronto to pull the trigger on a move in order to turn the right wing into assets that could help them this season. But there is more to it than that when looking at the broader picture years down the road.
“From the team’s perspective, I can understand their side too," added Peca, who played in 864 career games with six teams. "They don’t want to set a precedent where if a player doesn’t like what they’re being offered, they can just hold it out until Dec. 1 and then get traded and be rewarded. Having gone through it, I totally understand both sides of it.
"It all depends what you get in return. I think it’s a case where if you make a trade, you want to make sure it’s a trade that you win overwhelmingly because then it does set the precedent for other teams that if we’re going to trade for this guy, it’s going to cost us a lot. It’s a tightrope. I understand where Kyle is sitting and where William is sitting and it’s not comfortable for either one.”
— Dornbirn Bulldogs (@DECBulldogs) October 19, 2018
Peca, who did not face a midseason deadline similar to Nylander, was always hopeful he would not miss the entire season but both he and the Sabres held firm. Finally, Buffalo traded Peca to the New York Islanders on June 24, 2001. In Nylander’s case, the two-time Selke winner said he feels that the December deadline will help force the sides to a solution. Sitting out an entire season, he feels, is a situation where everyone loses.
“Even into the new year I was still hoping come trade deadline I could get moved,” the Canucks second-round pick in 1992 remembered. “I think it’s good for both sides to have this [deadline] for a decision to be made because to make a kid miss a whole season at this point in his career I think won’t happen.
"Ultimately you’d love to avoid missing an entire season. There was nothing worse I went through than missing an entire season when I was 26-years-old. It wasn’t an easy thing to go through knowing that I could be a productive player.”
— Sabres Goal a Day (@SabresGoalADay) July 3, 2017
At this point, Peca said a bridge deal, two years in length, makes the most sense for both sides. To avoid missing a full year of salary is important and returning to a situation where Nylander will be able to be productive will only enhance his bargaining position a year and a half from now. The timing is not ideal but it makes both sides winners.
“If there is some sort of short-term fix that can get you playing, still put lots of money in your pocket and [also] gives yourself a better chance...where then you can become that prime guy and get the money [you're after it's this],” Peca said. "[Toronto is] a high-octane offense where you’re going to be able to produce in it and then get your opportunity to move elsewhere after that.”
Looking back, the former Sabres captain is comfortable with how his situation played out. He ended up playing in the Spengler Cup that season and still earned an invite to play for Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics midway through the following season.
In the end, he said his dispute with the Sabres turned into a matter of principle that he was not willing to budge on.
“The decision to sit was mine,” Peca said. “I don’t know if there is anything I would change because I was reacting to things that were happening in the Buffalo market. For me, it was more about the way the ownership was handling the whole situation...It just got to a point where I got sick and tired of it and couldn’t see myself representing that ownership and this organization any longer.”
The question now is, has it already become a matter of principle for Nylander? We will know for sure in the next two weeks.