Look, I didn’t want it to come to this either. It’s been a wacky and wild few months, with all sorts of uncertainties surrounding the team and all sorts of speculation, and I’ve been pretty adamant that that desperation is no way to solve a tense situation.
But I’m at my wit’s end. Something has to give, and a move needs to be made. I’m sure that Kyle Dubas, Laurence Gilman, and the rest of the management team in Toronto have come to the same conclusion. It’s time to pull the trigger on a Nylander deal.
In Tuesday night’s game against the Laval Rocket, the Toronto Marlies dressed just eleven forwards. This was due to Trevor Moore’s call-up to the Leafs, Adam Brooks’ precautionary trip home due to a heart issue, and the fact that the team had too many defined veterans to dress Rich Clune. But matters got even worse when Adam Cracknell was injured in the first period, bringing Toronto down to ten forwards and pushing Frank Corrado and Jordan Subban into wing duty.
It was weird sight, to say the Leafs. The Marlies have mitigated this by calling up Dylan Ferguson and Giorgio Estephan yesterday, but with the two having just five combined games of AHL experience, it’s possible that such a solution is a stop-gap at best. With that in mind, Toronto could use another forward.
Enter Alex Nylander.
Nylander, a Calgary-born, Swedish-raised right winger, is just a few years removed from being drafted 8th overall. He’s been a bit polarizing since; some appreciate the high-end components of his skill set, while others look at his results and wonder if the good stretches are a product of his surroundings. He’s on pace for several career highs this year but has previously been unable to crack the 30 point plateau in two attempts.
Whatever the case may be, that most recent body of work is encouraging – through 14 games with Rochester this year, he has four goals and eight assists (12 points). While the Marlies already have their share of skilled wingers, rounding out the lineup is key, especially when you barely have enough forwards to dress a compliant roster. Nylander would also balance out the handedness of the wings in a fully healthy roster – most of Toronto’s best flanks (Moore, Carl Grundstrom, Dmytro Timashov, Pierre Engvall, Mason Marchment) shoot left-handed.
Of course, you have to give to get so going back in this deal (which, due to contract statuses, would have to be carried out as a loan-for-loan), would be Alex Gudbranson.
Gudbranson, who has been in the organization for a couple of years now, is currently stuck behind a log-jam of very capable defencemen and as such, is playing his hockey with the Newfoundland Growlers right now. So far, the Orleans, Ontario native has one point (an assist) in three games.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Even with the uncertainty of his production being sustainable, why would Rochester possibly consider trading Nylander for Gudbranson?
Right now, the Amerks are atop the North Division and second in the American Hockey League with a 0.750 points percentage (10-3-1). Certainly, it’s not a stretch to believe that they will be contenders for this year’s Calder Cup.
While they could try to win by scoring away their problems, everyone knows that defence wins championships. The proof is in the Marlies; last year, they gave up the fewest goals in the league, and they went all the way to their first championship. Now, you might point out that they were also third in goals for, but it’s important to keep in mind that first is better than third, and that hockey minds that are smarter than people like you and I have been saying for years that you build from the net out.
Not to mention, Gudbranson is the kind of player you win with. Even if he didn’t play for the Marlies in the playoffs last year, he was still a member of the roster, still hoisted the cup at the end of Game 7, and still got his ring. That’s winning pedigree that Nylander has never shown at a high level. He’s also the most valuable type of player in hockey; a big, steady, and physical right-handed defenceman. Rochester has plenty of crafty, puck-moving defencemen like Zach Redmond, Lawrence Pilut, and Brendan Guhle, but those types of players disappear when it matters most and they cause too many turnovers. Players like Gudbranson play the game right and the play the game simple.
Besides, if you look at Rochester’s lineup, Nylander’s points are replaceable. Three skaters are above a point per game, including slightly undersized playmaking winger Victor Olofsson. Seven are on pace to be in around the 50+ point range. Immature young analysts have a delusional belief that you can score away your problems, but to me, I think this is an opportunity for Rochester to balance out their lineup and spread the wealth.
So, while Gudbranson might technically be “not as good” and “less valuable” and “older”, he makes up for that by being the type of piece that everyone knows you need to win. That makes this a fair trade for both sides – one team deals from a position of perceived strength to add another impact player, while the other trades Nylander for pennies on the dollar, but does what the hockey world insists is the right thing to help them win.