Comparing the Elias Pettersson and William Nylander contract extensions head-to-head

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
4 months ago
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It’s long been said that Toronto is the self-appointed centre of the hockey universe. And the gravitational force of that status ensures that whenever anything of any significance happens in the sport, we’re only moments away from “But What Does This Mean for the Maple Leafs?”-type headlines.
But sometimes, at least, there’s a valid reason for that, and such is the case with the Elias Pettersson extension and the inevitable comparisons that have already been drawn between it and the William Nylander extension a couple of months prior.
This time around, the similarities are too similar not to note.
Both Pettersson and Nylander are Swedish superstars who took somewhat uneven and uncertain paths toward that superstardom, but who have both clearly “arrived” by this point in time. Both ply their trade for hockey-mad Canadian markets. And both signed eight-year extensions in the neighbourhood of a $11.5 million AAV.
So, we thought we’d get ahead of the conversation and put the Pettersson and Nylander contracts head-to-head to see who, if anyone, comes out on top, both now and in the future.
The Basics
We should get the most obvious, basic demographical differences out of the way first.
Let’s start with the fact that Nylander is a fair bit older than Pettersson. With a May 1, 1996 birthday, Nylander will turn 28 half a year before Pettersson hits 26 on November 12.
The two are separated by three full draft years, too, with Nylander going eighth overall in 2014 and Pettersson going fifth overall in 2017.
And that definitely matters when it comes to determining contract value. Pettersson’s contract kicks in while he is still 25, and expires when he is 33. Nylander’s contract kicks in when he is 28, and expires when he is 36.
Both contracts cover the remainder of each player’s prime. But Nylander’s goes a little bit beyond the point at which he can be expected to decline, at least a little. Every player is an individual, but the odds are pretty high that an NHL forward is going to have better years from 25-33 than they are from 28-36.
That alone makes Pettersson’s contract, at the very least, one with better timing.
Beyond that, edges are harder to define. Pettersson is taller, 6’2” to 6’0”. Nylander is heavier, listed at 204 pounds to Pettersson’s 176 (though we suspect that number may have grown over the years.)
Pettersson is a centre, at least most of the time, whereas Nylander now spends the bulk of his shifts on the wing. Traditionally, centres are considered to be more valuable, and there are roughly half as many of them in the league as there are centres. On the whole, the question of position tips things in favour of Pettersson again, though Nylander’s ability to occasionally play in the middle does mitigate the advantage.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the two players did not sign identical contracts. Nylander signed for a total of $92 million over eight years, an average of $11.5 million per season. Pettersson will earn almost a million more at $92.8 million over eight years, an average of $11.6 million.
Both players received full no-movement clauses, though Pettersson’s isn’t eligible to kick in until Year Two of the deal when he reaches UFA age. Nylander has his from the jump.
Both contracts feature heavy signing bonuses in the later years, thus making them essentially buyout-proof.
The 2023/24 Campaign
Hockey is often a “what have you done for me lately?” sport, and that’s especially true with contract negotiations.
It’s reasonable, then, to continue our examination with what each player has been doing in their “contract year.”
Both players can be found in or around the NHL’s top-ten scoring list. As of this writing, Nylander is ahead with 83 points, good for a tie with JT Miller for sixth place. Pettersson, meanwhile, has slipped down to 11th place with 75 points.
Nylander is having, simply put, a brilliant season, and with his only having played 60 games to Pettersson’s 63, his point-per-game lead is even greater at 1.38 to 1.19.
Only Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, and David Pastrnak have a higher PPG than Nylander this season.
The gap narrows if we’re just talking even-strength production. There, Nylander only beats Pettersson out by a single point at 48 EVP versus 47 EVP, and Nylander does score a higher percentage of his points on the power play, where his Maple Leafs are much more lethal than the Canucks: 28.4% versus 22.8%.
Pettersson, for what’s it worth, kills about 30 extra seconds of penalties per game that Nylander does, but neither has been on their team’s top unit this year.
Of course, hockey is a team sport, and the rest of the players around these individuals certainly matter. We’ll comment more on quality of teammates in a later section, but here we should mention that both teams in question are having strong seasons in general.
As of this writing, Pettersson’s Canucks sit at the top of the Western Conference and Pacific Division standings with 85 points and a .675 point-percentage.
Nylander’s Maple Leafs sit third in the (admittedly more competitive) Atlantic Division with 78 points and a .650 point-percentage.
The Longer Trend
Hockey may have a recency bias, but when it comes to signing eight-year commitments, front offices do have to look at the longer trends.
It’s a bit of a stereotype that players often post breakout numbers in their contract years, but sometimes it really does happen, and it does look to be happening with Nylander.
Prior to this season, his highest PPG across a full campaign was the 1.06 he posted last season, which was 87 points in 82 games.
Compare that with Pettersson, whose production is actually down in his contract year. Last year, in 2022/23, Pettersson had 102 points in 80 games for a 1.28 PPG, and this year that’s slipped to a 1.19 PPG.
So, if either of the two is playing a little over their head in 2023/24 in the chase for more dollars, it’s definitely Nylander.
If we expand out to the three-year trend, both players remain neck-and-neck. Conveniently enough, both players have played exactly 223 games since the beginning of the 2021/22 season. During that timespan, Nylander is slightly ahead in production, 250 points to 245. At even-strength, it’s 156 points to 154.
For the past several seasons running, these two have been in lockstep.
The Other Important Factors
We’ve been focused primarily on production up until now, and that makes enough sense, as that’s where both of these players have made their money.
But there’s more to hockey than just goals and assists.
Of the two, Pettersson would generally be considered to be the superior defensive player, though it’s not exactly a cakewalk.
Pettersson did finish seventh in Selke Trophy voting last season. Nylander has yet to receive a Selke vote in his career.
On that same three-season, 223-game timeframe we just looked at, we’ll find that Pettersson has only allowed 172 even-strength goals against, whereas Nylander has allowed 195.
Both kill penalties, but Pettersson does it a lot more, and has for a lot longer. Over the three-year trend, Pettersson averages 1:17 in shorthanded time per game to Nylander’s mere 26 seconds.
That their Corsi rating over the past three seasons is so close – Nylander leads Pettersson 52.3% to 50.6% – actually looks quite complimentary to Pettersson, as Nylander’s Leafs have been competitive in every one of those seasons, which has not been the case for the Canucks.
Pettersson consistently starts about 5-10% more of his shifts in the defensive zone, too, as compared to Nylander.
Both players play against a quality of competition that is just slightly ahead of league average, but it is Pettersson who faces the tougher comp of the two.
Both Pettersson and Nylander are fortunate to play with an incredibly talented array of teammates on their respective first power play units. But when it comes to quality of even-strength linemates, Nylander is at a distinct advantage.
Nylander’s three most-frequent linemates this season have been John Tavares, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Auston Matthews. Of Nylander’s 48 EV points, 24 have come while lined up with Tavares, and 18 have come alongside Matthews.
Nylander played – and scored – with Matthews even more frequently in prior years.
Pettersson, meanwhile, hasn’t been so blessed.
Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko are still his most-frequent linemates in 2023/24. Brock Boeser and JT Miller are next, but then Sam Lafferty clocks in at #5.
Of Pettersson’s 47 EV points, 18 came with Mikheyev and 15 with Kuzmenko. Just 14 occurred while out there at evens with Boeser and Miller.
Clearly, it is Nylander who benefits most directly from his linemates and teammates.
Is that enough to give Pettersson the overall edge here in contract value? If not, it’s got to be close. Pettersson and Nylander produce about the same, but Pettersson has been doing it more consistently and for longer, and he’s the superior defensive player at the more valuable position.
On top of all that, Pettersson is younger, and plies his trade for a team that appears to be more on the rise.
So, if we have to pick between the two contracts, we’re going to hedge by first stating that neither team should be dissatisfied with what they’ve signed…
…and then we’re going to outright say that Pettersson’s contract is better.

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