Rick Zamperin: William Nylander must now live up to the hype

William Nylander (29) has signed a new six-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Whew, that was close.

William Nylander is still a Toronto Maple Leaf after he and the team’s management came together on a last-minute deal before Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

The six-year contract is worth $41.77 million, includes a $24.5-million signing bonus and carries an annual cap hit of $6.9 million after this season. The 22-year-old Swede will earn $10.2 million for the remainder of this season.

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READ MORE: Nylander signs extension with Leafs before deadline

The deal means that Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has delivered on part one of this three-part promise to sign Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The current contracts of the latter two players expire next year, and both will command an even higher price point than their newly re-signed teammate.

Did the Leafs overpay for Willie? Nylander, 22, is the 41st-highest paid player in the league and his best years are ahead of him so think of this contract as an investment as opposed to a reward. The same will apply for Matthews, Marner and every other young, ultra-talented player in today’s NHL.

READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: Mike Babcock saying all the right things as William Nylander deadline looms

Nylander’s deal is somewhat similar to the contract Toronto signed with former star player Phil Kessel. He inked an eight-year, $64-million pact that took effect in the 2014-15 season when he was 26. The difference was that Kessel already had five 30-goal campaigns on his resume. He has had only one since.

If Nylander continues to be a 20-goal, 60-point producer, then Toronto will have definitely overpaid for him, even in today’s inflated market. But if he becomes a 30-goal, 85-point player then it will truly be a win-win for the team and the player, especially if Dubas can squeeze Matthews and Marner under the cap next year.

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READ MORE: Rick Zamperin: William Nylander contract talks likely to go down to the wire

The ball — or, in this case, the puck — is now in Nylander’s court, and the pressure to perform and live up to the contract he signed begins now. In hockey-mad Toronto — and considering the drama this scenario created — Nylander may never live up to the hype.

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