It certainly seems to me that Leafs coach Mike Babcock was telegraphing a message about William Nylander on Thursday to reporters lucky enough to be in Columbus on American Thanksgiving.
Speaking about the future of the team, he said:
“We think our team’s going to be better, we have significant pieces not here and they will be here.”
One of those significant pieces is Auston Matthews, set to return from his shoulder injury soon enough, but probably the middle of next week.
The other significant piece? Well, he didn’t say specifically, but if since everyone else is accounted for, it has to the Nylander.
Babcock does not like to be wrong. In fact, he’s so super prepared, he’s always right. He telegraphed the Leafs were going to Newfoundland for next year’s training camp about a month before the team put out a press release to that effect.
He likes to show off what he knows. He’s deeply involved with all aspects of the team, including management, whether he’ll ever admit that or not. He likes to show off what he knows. I do believe he was telegraphing that a deal with Nylander is in the offing.
The reporters — namely Chris Johnston of Sportsnet in this case — still lucky enough to be in Columbus to cover the game on Friday seemed to try to pin Babcock down for clarity. Babcock said he was “hopeful…. Willy loves hockey. I know Willy good — he’s a great teammate and a good person — and he loves hockey. He wants to play hockey. So I’m betting on that.”
Only time will tell, of course.
To the Mailbag:
QUESTION: Good day, once aging Kevin glad you do what you do so well. Whatever happens before Dec. 1 do you see any way the Leafs could do anything more then improve in the short and hopefully long term. Could all the discussion about the forwards being the main focus, has the defence been overlooked a bit? The game against Carolina the other night didn’t impress me defence-wise. Your thoughts are always appreciated!
ANSWER. Thanks. …. Does anyone call you Father (a little M*A*S*H humour. … Okay very little.) … One or two losses here or there should’t be two worrisome. There are other good teams out there. Some match up better against Toronto than others. Carolina is one of them, their defence able to contain the speed of the Leafs forwards. I see the team being what it is until the middle of January. The return of Matthews, and presumably, Nylander will change things.
But Babcock will turn up the heat, maybe after the all-star break, and get the team prepared for what’s to come in April. That may mean adding a player or two, though who comes out remains to be seen. I guess whoever is not getting Babcock’s message would be the odd-man out.
QUESTION: Hey Kev! Not getting to keep players you draft and you spend the time to develop, is beginning to drive me a little crazy. The argument for a salary cap is clear. It makes everyone equal and you can’t “buy” a winning team just because you have the deepest pockets. Totally fair.
This then, begs the question: Where is the reward for excelling at drafting and developing your team?
Would it not be beneficial to have any player your team drafted AND developed have a slightly lesser impact on the cap hit? Say a 25-50 per cent reduction towards the cap? Or be able to do it with a certain number of them. Say five players on a roster? (Just throwing that number out there, no science involved.)
ONLY players the team DRAFTED and DEVELOPED.
I say this since there seems to be no benefit to drafting and developing a team if you just end up losing them when they hit their mid-20s because of the cap. The Leafs have many players they drafted, developed and believed in and that they now have in their lineup. They were NOT bought or traded for.
I think those teams doing an excellent job of drafting and developing players should not be penalized and have to give/trade those players to other teams not so good at doing it with.
There has to be a better way to make this salary cap more fair and equitable. (I also like the idea floating around of allowing one salary on each team to not count against the cap.)
ANSWER: All your ideas have their merit. How many seasons would you like to forgo in order to get the salary cap to change from anything but 50-50? If I know Gary Bettman, I’d say, it would cost two full seasons of NHL hockey.
And all because, why, the Leafs have drafted well enough these past few years and one of those picks – Nylander – is trying to get a better deal? Pity Chicago, Boston and other teams that had to lose players they drafted and developed for the sake of staying under the salary cap.
I got news for you, the Leafs fan base is just getting round to experiencing what other fan bases have suffered through and other teams have figured out long ago.
Remember, if you start creating exemptions, those blank voids would fill up pretty quickly. You’d probably end up with more mistakes — big contracts that can’t be traded to other teams — than you already have as an immediate side effect. If player X is getting more because he was drafted by a team, then player Y – who’s better — is going to want even more to sign with that team.
Bettman is not losing any sleep over whether the Leafs lose Nylander and maybe Jake Gardiner because they signed John Tavares and need money for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Bettman instead sleeps well because all his teams are rising in value and such movement adds to league-wide parity (which he believes is a good thing).
QUESTION: Hi Kevin. First time asking a question, but long time devoted reader. You do a great job.
The leading contenders for Leafs captain have seemed to be Auston Matthews or John Tavares.
The more I watch Morgan Reilly play and his demeanour etc. the more I think he should be the
captain. Thoughts? Thanks again for writing such an enjoyable column.
ANSWER: Thanks so much for joining the conversation, Steve. I agree, Rielly is captain material. I’ve written that in the past. But so is Tavares, and I’m warming up to Matthews as a leader. There are things he does — not the least of which was hosting Mike Babcock after last season. That was more on behalf of the team than about himself. They have leadership riches.
QUESTION: Hi Kevin,
ANSWER: Good question. I’ve heard stories of team captains getting on the phone to the holdout to, shall we say, encourage his teammate to sign on the bottom line. I haven’t had it verified, and haven’t seen it in print, so I won’t name them. But I believe it. That said, I don’t think that’s the case with Nylander. His teammates love him, and in a way, he is taking one for the team — his friends — by testing GM Kyle Dubas. It’s a wakeup call for any young player in the room that this is a business. They respect what he’s doing. But you’re right. If this does turn into a “What Could Have Been” scenario, their view might change.
ANSWER: The Canes want to make the playoffs, so waiting on Gardiner wouldn’t make any sense to them. That said, Nylander for Hamilton seems an even-up trade to me. Don’t think that’s going to happen though.
QUESTION: Hi Kevin,
Enjoyed your last article (as always) on the Canes, but have to ask: Why is it always assumed that Toronto needs a defenceman if they are forced to trade Nylander? There has not been much wrong with their defensive play so far this year. If Nylander is gone, what they really lack is his skill set. Personally, I found Larry Brooks’s proposal to be interesting: Brady Skjei and Chris Kreider for Nylander. Skjei has had a few tough years, but that’s not unusual for a young D-man finding his way (hello, Jake Gardiner). You’d be buying him low. But to me, the really intriguing add would be Kreider, now on pace for a 40 goal season. Everybody says that’s not sustainable, given his career stats, but imagine him on a line with Auston Matthews. Then you’re talking about a big, heavy line that could match up very well with the Bergeron line in a potential series against Boston. Kreider’s contract expires in 18 months, and by then Toronto is rid of the Marleau and Hainsey deals. Perhaps you throw Zaitsev into this trade to give the Leafs more salary cap flexibility. Dermott can play on the right side. He’s done that before with the Marlies. And that kind of a deal still gives Toronto a lot of LH D-man depth, so they could still work out a trade for a RH-D later if the solution of Dermott proved wanting. That’s the kind of deal I think would make more sense for Toronto than, say, Brett Pesce (which in itself isn’t enough).
All the best, Marshall A
PS When I tweeted Brooks’s article and expressed support, I got reams of hatred from both Leafs and Rangers fans, which probably means that Brooks was on to something.
ANSWER: Brooksie’s a Hall of Famer now, so we have to listen. … I like Chris Kreider a lot. He’s a nice human being, very engaging. I think Leaf fans would like him very much. I’m not sure he’s what Kyle Dubas would go after, but you’re on to something about getting a left-winger who can score. It’s an interesting idea.
QUESTION: Hi Uncle Kev,
I recall a few years ago MLSE stated they have revamped their entertainment product and wanted to deliver a more entertaining experience for the fans at the game. However, I still feel that the overall experience at times can be boring, and I think a lot of this has to do with the type of fans at the game. In other words, “The Suits.” I have literally been to games (when lucky to be in the lower bowl) and while sitting there, I hear conversations about their related business. The irony now is that I too work in the Financial District, but personally if I ever get to go to a game, my job is the last thing on my mind. It can take a break for 2 1/2 hours. My question is, what do you think MLSE can realistically do to improve the overall in game experience, or do you think all options have been exhausted and we are left with what we have? I know playoffs games (and some Saturday night games with more families) are completely different, but that’s only a small portion of the season.
And one more question, do you think Toronto will EVER develop a new cheer other than the “Go Leafs Go”? I wish some soccer mentality came into this regarding chants. Ever see the TFC Viking Clap (taken from team Iceland)? Would be cool if someone had a drum at Leafs games and incorporated the viking clap to Go Leafs Go. For example, (Drum, “GO!” ….. Drum, “Leafs!” … Drum, “Go!”) that starts off slow and repeats gradually at a faster pace. Some variety in our chants would maybe spice things up for in game experience. Anyways, just my thoughts …
ANSWER: The truth is the Leafs in-game experience has come a long way in the past five years or so. Two things I’d change: Don’t blast music after EVERY whistle, especially on whistles that are just seconds apart. Just trust the fans to make their own noise. And get rid of that goal song. It’s awful. But I never liked Hall and Oates. The in-game videos are well done. I do wish “The Suits” as you call them were a little more into the game, but that’s the price of doing business in hockey’s biggest and richest market. I’d love the Leafs to get a Latvian player. Those fans are the best. They’d come to every game with their drums.
QUESTION: Hello Kevin
With all the speculation on which player coming back would be acceptable in a Nylander trade.
What do you think of Colton Parayko as the much needed defenceman everyone thinks the Leafs need? Would you make that trade if St Louis were a willing trade partner?
ANSWER: Sign me on the Parayko trade express. … But bad news for you Dan. People are on you. (Now you’re going to know how it feels).
TO DAN W FROM ALICE B: Hi, Kevin. First time writer, long time Star sports section reader, life time Leaf fan! Had to ask if Dan W. just recently acquired his Leafs season tickets because his comment about paying too much money to watch, in his opinion, sub-par players is pretty ridiculous when you consider that not too long ago he was paying not much less for not nearly the team he’s lucky enough to watch today!
That was a bit of a run-on sentence, but I really could not believe what he wrote.
Love this team….It ain’t perfect yet, but sure looks promising! GO LEAFS GO!!!!!
RESPONSE: Thanks for joining in, Alice.
1. Can Willy Nylander play in the KHL or the SHL if he doesn’t sign with Toronto by the deadline?
2. Can an NHL team offer a financial incentive (or any other tangible benefit) to a player to have him waive his no-movement clause for a trade?
ANSWER: Two simple questions, two simple answers. Yes and No. Yes, Nylander can sign and play overseas. And any financial offer or tangible benefit to get a player to waive his no-movement clause could be deemed cap circumvention.
QUESTION: Hi Kevin.
Despite a decrease in the number of goals scored against the Leafs and the improved play of defencemen there is still the assumption that the Leafs are weak defensively. I see vastly improved positional play by the defence and an ability to jump into the play to provide secondary scoring opportunities. Add to that the play and development of the two Swedish defencemen for the Marlies and the outlook is indeed bright for the Leafs.When are hockey fans going to realize that the Leafs’ ‘D’ is no longer a weakness on the team and in all likelihood is becoming a strength?
Ken W, Kitchener
ANSWER: I agree that the Leafs situation on defence is better than expected. Certainly Morgan Rielly is having a Norris-worthy season. I do believe Timothy Liljegren will be ready soon, and Calle Rosen is of NHL caliber. That said, the likelihood is that Jake Gardiner will be a tough re-sign, and Ron Hainsey’s days are numbered. So all that talk for a defenceman for Nylander (if it comes to that) is not without merit. Dubas has to be as worried about next year as this year.
QUESTION: Hi Kevin,
ANSWER: It’s actually a $6.25 million hit on Marleau. Best case scenario (for salary cap purposes), the Leafs win the Cup this year and Marleau retires a champion (after collecting his $3 million signing bonus on July 1). Marleau will only earn $1.25 million during next season. For a team hoping to get to the salary cap floor without spending a lot of money, he’s an intriguing idea. (Of course, he’d have to waive his NMC.) They could package him with Nathan Horton (one more year at $5.3 million). … I doubt the Leafs would trade Gardiner heading into the playoffs. Consider him an own-rental.
QUESTION: Uncle Kev: Love your work and this column and respect your opinion on all matters Leaf related.
My question is about the oft-injured Matthews. Watching Tavares play day in and day out and seeing how physical he is has surprised me. I know Matthews is a different player than JT, but for a big guy, he seems to shy away from hitting the opposing players. When the playoffs come around and some of the rules sort of change with refs letting things go more, he has disappeared. And seeing him get hurt fairly easily several times has raised the following questions in my mind: Is Auston Matthews brittle? Should the Leafs seriously consider trading him now and make better use of the $13-14 million that they’ll be on the hook for – for a player who may very well miss 10-15 games a season? That kind of money gets you 2 players in the Pastrnak salary range and opens up the chance of resigning Gardiner (yes, I’m a fan), plus Rielly, Kadri and Andersen in the out years, plus Nylander.
I’d like to read your take on Matthews.
ANSWER: My colleague floated, Damien Cox, floated the idea of trading Matthews as well. I hate the idea. He’s a franchise centre. They don’t come along that often and you need them. … I don’t think Matthews is brittle. One thing I have heard as a criticism is that he’s not necessarily always aware of what’s around him, a la Eric Lindros. Head down too much. He was always big, always able to plow over the competition. But he’s got to learn he can’t always do that in the NHL, that he needs to be more aware of his surroundings.
QUESTION: Hi Kev, I was more alluding to a “Cup” discount rather than a hometown discount. We can argue about whether or not winning a Cup factors into getting the Hall of Fame. Is (Michael) Nylander the worst hockey father, ever? I have sat in arenas waiting for my kids to play, instead of watching the Zamboni circle the ice, I would go and watch another game, listening to hockey parents who don’t know the rules, expecting teenage refs to call a perfect game with dollar signs in their eyes. Just like (Michael) Nylander. I was trying to say more like $10 million, and 3 years at $3 million, so the average cap hit evens out, but that window has closed. Don’t get me wrong, Willy is skilled and speedy, but now I would let the Nylanders sit and stew for a year. Unfortunately, this will make a deal and the cap situation worse next year. What do you see as the end game? A bridge deal/long term deal/trade? Is Nylander another Kessel?
ANSWER: Funny, there are similarities between Nylander and Kessel. Great offensively. Not exactly familiar with their own zone. But they can get the job done defensively when it matters. (Kessel was always great in the playoffs, at least in Toronto and Pittsburgh). Kessel engineered his trade out of Boston, unwilling to sign what the Bruins were offering him as a restricted free agent coming off his entry-level deal. … I believe Nylander will re-sign with the Leafs by the end of next week. A short-term deal. Three years would work for Nylander.
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