Babcock be­lieves Ny­lan­der ‘go­ing to be a ca­reer Leaf ’

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - CHURCH LISTINGS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

Toronto head coach Mike Babcock re­mains con­fi­dent Will ia m Ny lan­der and the Maple Leafs have a fu­ture to­gether.

Whether or not that’s ac­tu­ally the case will be­come clear be­fore the team takes the ice Satur­day night. Babcock has re­peat­edly used the word “when” and not “if” — some­times with­out prompt­ing — while dis­cussing the re­stricted free agent’s po­ten­tial re­turn through­out a con­tract im­passe that has dragged 26 games into the reg­u­lar sea­son.

And with the clock con­tin­u­ing to tick to­wards Satur­day’s 5 p.m. ET dead­line to get Ny­lan­der signed so he’s el­i­gi­ble to play in the NHL in 2018-19, Babcock isn’t chang­ing his tune.

“There’s lots of opin­ion out there,” he said af­ter Thurs­day’s prac­tice. “Let’s not con­fuse opin­ion and facts. We think Willy’s go­ing to be here, and we think Willy’s go­ing to be here for a long time, and we think he’s go­ing to be a ca­reer Leaf. “That’s what we think . ... That’s what we be­lieve.”

There are three pos­si­bil­i­ties for the Leafs and Ny­lan­der, a slick for­ward ca­pa­ble of lin­ing up at cen­tre or on the wing, as the sit­u­a­tion ap­proaches its tip­ping point — the two sides agree on a new deal (ei­ther short- or long-term), Toronto trades his rights to an­other team or the nu­clear op­tion of the player sit­ting out the en­tire year.

Michael Peca was the last NHLer to do that as a re­stricted free agent when he couldn’t come to terms with the Buf­falo Sabres dur­ing the 2000-01 cam­paign, but there was no Dec. 1 dead­line hang­ing over his head.

Peca was even­tu­ally dealt to the New York Is­lan­ders, and it would be hard to en­vi­sion a sce­nario where Ny­lan­der sits that long and then signs a new deal with Toronto.

“I’ve talked to him a cou­ple times,” said Leafs cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews, whose team vis­its the Min­nesota Wild on Satur­day. “I can imag­ine what he’s go­ing through. You know he wants to be here, he wants to play hockey. That’s the main thing.” There were re­ports ear­lier in ne­go­ti­a­tions that Ny­lan­der’s camp was ask­ing for $8 mil­lion per sea­son on a long-term pact. Toronto gen­eral man­ager Kyle Dubas was be­lieved to have coun­tered with an of­fer of about $6 mil­lion an­nu­ally, but the num­ber now re­port­edly lies some­where in the $6.9-mil­lion range. The eighth over­all pick in the 2014 draft, Ny­lan­der is com­ing off con­sec­u­tive 61-point sea­sons and is the first of Toronto’s young stars for­wards — Matthews and Mitch Marner are the oth­ers — to hit re­stricted free agency.

The Leafs have done fine with­out two of their best play­ers for much of 2018-19, sit­ting 18-8-0 and in a tie with the Buf­falo Sabres atop the over­all stand­ings head­ing into Thurs­day’s ac­tion.

Matthews scored twice and added an as­sist in his re­turn to the lineup Wed­nes­day in a 5-3 vic­tory over the San Jose Sharks af­ter miss­ing 14 games with a shoul­der in­jury, while Ny­lan­der has been at home in Swe­den wait­ing on a new con­tract. With one tal­ented for­ward now back in the fold, adding yet an­other high-end of­fen­sive piece has the Leafs ex­cited for a few rea­sons.

“All of us re­ally hope (the Ny­lan­der sit­u­a­tion) gets re­solved so we don’t get asked this ev­ery sin­gle day,” Matthews said with a smile. “Ev­ery­body ex­pects he’ll be here very soon.”


If Wil­liam Ny­lan­der wants to play for the Maple Leafs this sea­son, he’ll have to reach an agree­ment with the team be­fore the Dec. 1 dead­line.

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