By 3 p.m. Calgary time on Saturday, William Nylander will either sign a contract for the 2018-19 season or sit out for the rest of the campaign. If he does sign (with the Toronto Maple Leafs or somebody else), his deal will provide a good ballpark for what to expect when Matthew Tkachuk becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, 2019. But for a few reasons, Tkachuk will probably get a heftier deal.
Tkachuk will have played more NHL games on his first deal
Nylander’s played parts of four North American pro seasons, splitting the 2014-15 season (his contractual 19-year-old “slide year”) between the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the SHL’s MODO Hockey. He split the 2015-16 season between the Marlies and Leafs – not accumulating enough NHL experience to count as a “year of service” for the purpose of unrestricted free agency – and then spent 2016-17 and 2017-18 as a full-time NHLer.
Tkachuk went directly to the Flames and has stayed there ever since. As of Saturday night’s game, Tkachuk had played 170 NHL games and since Nylander only made 185 appearances for the Leafs on his entry-level contract, Tkachuk will definitely have more NHL skates to his credit when his deal expires.
Tkachuk has slightly better point production
Nylander has 135 points in 185 NHL games, for a 0.729 points-per-game pace. Tkachuk has 126 points in 170 NHL games, for a 0.741 points-per-game pace.
That said, Tkachuk is more reliant on special teams time for his production. Nylander has a higher proportion of his points at even strength than Tkachuk – 69.6% versus Tkachuk’s 68.3% – though their even strength points-per-game are extremely similar – 0.508 for Nylander, 0.506 for Tkachuk.
Tkachuk has slightly better goal production
Nylander has 48 goals in 185 NHL games, for a 0.259 goals-per-game pace. Tkachuk has 49 goals in 170 NHL games, for a 0.288 goals-per-game pace.
Nylander scores a higher proportion of his goals at even strength than Tkachuk – 68.8% versus 65.3% for Tkachuk – but Tkachuk scores at even strength at a high per-game rate – 0.188 versus Nylander’s 0.178.
Tkachuk arguably drives play more
Tkachuk has a higher Corsi For percentage than Nylander – 57.0% versus Nylander’s 52.6% – and a higher Relative Corsi percentage than Nylander – +6.5% versus Nylander’s +1.9%.
We can debate what those numbers precisely mean, but functionally what it means is that Tkachuk’s line has the puck more often than Nylander’s line (and more often relative to the other lines on both of their teams in that span).
Both players have had help
Tkachuk’s most frequent even strength linemates during his entry level years have been Selke candidate Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Norris contender Mark Giordano, and some combination of TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. You can argue that it’s easy to look good when you’re surrounded by good players.
But Nylander has also played with some pretty good players. His most frequent even strength linemates are Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. The depth of the Leafs during Nylander’s time has also been a plus for him, as it has allowed them to use him further down in the line rotations than the Flames have been able to use Tkachuk.
Tkachuk has had more challenging deployments
Playing with Backlund and Giordano has its downsides. Among Tkachuk’s most frequent forward opponents at even strength: Ryan Getzlaf, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Joe Pavelski, Anze Kopitar and Sidney Crosby. He’s started 43.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Among Nylander’s most frequent even strength opponents: Sam Reinhart, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Frans Nielsen, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Jakub Voracek. He’s started 52.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Tkachuk has a good case for higher compensation
When you compare their roles, situations and performances during their entry level years, both Nylander and Tkachuk are very impressive young players.
But there are several small reasons why Tkachuk is arguably more important to the Flames’ success than Nylander is to the Leafs’. So whatever cap hit Nylander produces on his new deal, expect that to be the basis for Tkachuk’s camp to ask general manager Brad Treliving to give him a little bit more.