COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mike Babcock remains optimistic that William Nylander will sign a new contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs before the Dec. 1 deadline passes that would rule him out for the entire NHL season.
One day after predicting the Leafs would soon be welcoming back “significant pieces” — believed to be the injured Auston Matthews and Nylander — the Leafs coach addressed the Nylander impasse directly.
“I’m confident, hopeful,” Babcock said Friday before Toronto played Columbus. “I mean Willy loves hockey. I know Willy good — he’s a great teammate and good person — and he loves hockey. He wants to play that.
“So I’m betting on that.”
Nylander must have a new contract registered with the league by 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 in order to play in 2018-19.
Since that deadline was established for Group 2 free agents, no other player has been this close to testing it. Kyle Turris went to Nov. 22 before signing a two-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes in 2011.
With three key members of the Leafs front office accompanying the team on the road this week — general manager Kyle Dubas and assistants Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman — there is believed to have been some progress made in talks.
The biggest hurdle at the end of a negotiation like this one might not even be the length and cap hit on the contract, but how it is structured with bonuses and year-by-year salary.
While Babcock probably doesn’t get involved to that level of detail, he isn’t shy about sharing his opinion with Dubas. The two men spoke in the stands at Nationwide Arena on Friday while the Blue Jackets went through their morning skate.
“Usually as a manager they don’t mind helping you coach the team and you don’t mind helping them manage,” said Babcock. “You just have conversations because maybe someone has an idea. I always say ‘Who did you like better than I liked?’ after the game. Maybe they’ve got an idea you didn’t have. I think that’s why you surround yourself with good people is you share ideas and, in the end, someone’s got to make a decision.
“That’s part of his job.”
List of recent Group 2 free agent signings by date:
Nov. 22, 2011: Kyle Turris, Arizona (2 years, $1.4M AAV)
Nov. 7, 2016: Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg (2 years, $3M AAV)
Oct. 27, 2016: Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim (6 years, $5.25M AAV)
Oct. 26, 2015: Mattias Ekholm, Nashville (6 years, $3.75M AAV)
Oct. 23, 2017: Andreas Athanasiou, Detroit (1 year, $1.85M AAV)
Oct. 18, 2018: Nick Ritchie, Anaheim (3 years, $1.64M AAV)
Oct. 15, 2014: Eric Gelinas, New Jersey (1 year, $900,000 AAV)
Oct. 14, 2016: Rickard Rakell, Anaheim (6 years, $3.8M AAV)
Oct. 11, 2016: Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo (6 years, $5.4M AAV)
Oct. 11, 2016: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay (3 years, $4.766667 AAV)
Oct. 10, 2016: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary (6 years, $6.75M AAV)