Ny­lan­der, Dubas, re­lieved to end im­passe and get down to hockey

The Sault Star - - SPORTS - JOHN CHIDLEY-HILL

TORONTO — If Wil­liam Ny­lan­der ever de­cides to give up his hockey ca­reer he might con­sider a move to Las Ve­gas.

“I haven’t played that much poker but maybe I should give it a try,” said Ny­lan­der with a laugh on Mon­day night, two days af­ter the 22-year-old winger re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, end­ing a months-long con­tract hold­out that some­times re­sem­bled a high­stakes game of Texas hold ’em.

Ny­lan­der and Maple Leafs gen­eral man­ager Kyle Dubas agreed to a US$6.9 mil­lion six-year deal less than an hour be­fore Satur­day’s 5 p.m. ET dead­line. Dubas filed the of­fi­cial pa­per­work with the NHL and play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion with min­utes to spare, of­fi­cially end­ing the im­passe.

“If I’m sit­ting here right now say­ing that with 45 min­utes left and he’s not signed that I had no con­cern, then I’m a liar,” said Dubas, laugh­ing. “Yes, there was con­cern.”

Ny­lan­der’s en­try-level con­tract ex­pired on July 1 and ne­go­ti­a­tions stretched through the sum­mer and into the sea­son, ul­ti­mately forc­ing him to miss a third of Toronto’s 2018-19 cam­paign. Although the two sides had been in reg­u­lar con­tact, things didn’t get mov­ing un­til the 11th hour when Ny­lan­der called Dubas to get a deal done.

“It was get­ting into the last 40 min­utes be­fore the dead­line and I was talk­ing to my agent and I said ‘let’s just call him,’ and I think that phone call re­ally got ev­ery­thing done,” said Ny­lan­der.

Ny­lan­der is com­ing off back-to­back 61-point sea­sons, in­clud­ing 20 goals and 41 as­sists in 2017-18. The Cal­gary-born Swede has 48 goals and 87 as­sists for 135 points in 185 ca­reer games. He also has two goals and six as­sists in 13 post­sea­son ap­pear­ances.

Com­ing into this sea­son, he was con­sid­ered a top-six for­ward for the Maple Leafs. But Toronto has thrived with­out him, com­pil­ing a 19-8-0 record that puts it near the top of the Eastern Con­fer­ence stand­ings.

His team­mates, who were in St. Paul, Minn., to play the Wild on Satur­day night, anx­iously watched the dead­line ap­proach.

“I was check­ing my Twit­ter feed prob­a­bly ev­ery 15 sec­onds, that’s for sure,” said Kasperi Ka­pa­nen, who was Ny­lan­der’s room­mate last sea­son. “Ob­vi­ously kind of went down to the wire there and I was get­ting ner­vous a bit but once it was done it was a good feel­ing.”

Ny­lan­der’s re­turn raises two im­por­tant ques­tions for the Maple Leafs.

The first is an im­me­di­ate one: what line will he play on now that he’s back? Ka­pa­nen has stepped up in his ab­sence and been ef­fec­tive on a line with Aus­ton Matthews and veteran Patrick Mar­leau, putting away 10 goals and eight as­sists in 27 games, all ca­reer highs.

Head coach Mike Bab­cock was tight-lipped with me­dia about his line com­bi­na­tions on Mon­day and both Ny­lan­der and Ka­pa­nen ad­mit­ted they were in the dark too.

“Good ques­tion,” said Ka­pa­nen when asked about a pos­si­ble line change. “Noth­ing for sure right now. Ob­vi­ously, the team’s been play­ing well and we’ve got to stay fo­cused on what we’re do­ing right now and keep play­ing.”

The sec­ond ques­tion is a fi­nan­cial one, as Ny­lan­der’s sign­ing makes for a po­ten­tially dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for Dubas as he tries to fit his young stars’ salaries un­der the league’s hard salary cap.

Matthews, who won the 2017 Calder Tro­phy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, Ka­pa­nen, and Mitch Marner, who leads the team with 38 points (six goals, 22 as­sists) are all due to be­come free agents at the same time. That is on top of su­per­star for­ward John Tavares’s seven-year deal worth $11 mil­lion per sea­son that was signed this past sum­mer.

“We know that in this mar­ket there’s al­ways go­ing to be a lot of ques­tions about it. I think the play­ers have han­dled it very very well,” said Dubas. “We have some re­stricted free agents, we have some loom­ing un­re­stricted free agents, I think it’s a for­tu­nate po­si­tion that we’re in that we have these tal­ented play­ers that are part of our or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We’ve al­ready be­gun those con­ver­sa­tions and we’ll con­tinue them with the am­bi­tion of hav­ing them con­cluded as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Ny­lan­der’s team­mates were all happy to see him get com­pen­sated with a lu­cra­tive and lengthy con­tract.

“When I saw him I did the makeit-rain dance on him,” said Marner. “Just gave him a hug, said con­grats on the new con­tract. We’re all ex­cited to have him back here. He’s a big part of this team.”

Wil­liam Ny­lan­der

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