Beyond the Headlines: Nylander complicating Matthews, Marner deals

Ron MacLean, Nick Kypreos, Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston discuss Roberto Luongo's injury and update William Nylander's contract status.

‘Beyond the Headlines’  is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t  — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.

Latest on William Nylander

The only thing worse than William Nylander’s continued absence for the Toronto Maple Leafs is the thought of it happening again next year with Auston Matthews and/or Mitch Marner.

Those players may still be several months out from hitting restricted free agency, but they are also more than three months past when an extension could first have been signed.

Kyle Dubas held extensive discussions with the representatives for Matthews (Judd Moldaver) and Marner (Darren Ferris) throughout the summer, but those conversations didn’t produce the framework to complete a deal.

And now that the season has started – with Nylander waiting back home in Sweden – the job gets even tougher.

For starters, the cost of locking up Matthews and Marner is going to rise if they take a measurable step, and the very early returns suggest they will. Then there’s also the complicating factor of discussing contracts in-season – something Matthews seems willing to do, but Marner has already instructed Ferris to avoid because he doesn’t want to have a distraction hanging over his head.

That was the same position Nylander took on his own situation last fall, calling off any discussions when the puck dropped for real: “Well, I’m a guy who just wants to: If we do it, (either) before the season or after,” he said at the time. “We’re just trying to focus on the team, and the way I’m playing during the year.”

As we’ve since learned, there’s no guarantee it’ll be any easier to get done when the focus shifts back to the business side of the game.

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Matt Duchene letting agent handle contract talks

Matt Duchene is another player wary of dealing with a negotiation during the season but understands it may be unavoidable with unrestricted free agency looming on July 1.

Still, the Ottawa Senators centre has already told agent Pat Brisson only to involve him if any potential talks reach a stage where it’s necessary to loop him in. He’s not looking for a blow-by-blow account of where things stand in the meantime.

Duchene comes from the same 2009 draft class as John Tavares and says he was impressed with how Tavares navigated his free agency during the summer. If he winds up hitting the open market next year, don’t be surprised if he borrows a page or two from the Tavares playbook.

Seattle team set to begin aggressive rebuild of KeyArena

The race is on in Seattle, where all of the branding being done around the NHL’s prospective 32nd franchise is entirely focused on a 2020 launch (see the tagline at the end of this recent progress update video

It’s a lot to ask.

The final event at KeyArena was held on Friday night and demolition needs to begin almost immediately for the $700-million facelift to the facility to have any chance at completion within two years, according to Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke. On Monday, plans will be announced for a multi-pad practice rink and team headquarters and that project also needs to be started – and finished – by fall 2020.

What makes the timeline especially aggressive is the lack of available contingency options if there are delays. There are no other facilities in the city capable of hosting NHL games. And while the possibility of having the expansion team start with an extended run of road games has been discussed, there isn’t believed to be much appetite from the league for that option.

As a result, Seattle needs to make a lot of progress quickly to convince the NHL it can be ready for the 2020-21 season.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

New Seattle team won’t change playoff format

There will be no grand-scale realignment when Seattle is ready to enter the league, with the expansion team expected to join the Pacific Division while Arizona moves to the Central.

That’s a tough trade-off for the Coyotes, who would lose their three closest NHL rivals as divisional opponents in the exchange: Las Vegas (445 kilometres), Anaheim (569 kilometres) and Los Angeles (594 kilometres).

It also won’t quiet speculation that Arizona is eventually bound for Houston. That city is a more natural geographical fit in a Central Division that includes Dallas, Colorado, Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, Minnesota and Winnipeg.

Steve Mason considering retirement

The NHL is still interested in free-agent goalie Steve Mason. He’s just not sure how interested he is in putting himself through another NHL season.

The 30-year-old is believed to have turned down a low-money offer from the Carolina Hurricanes this week because it didn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis when weighed against the toll it would likely take on his body.

Mason dealt with concussion and knee issues last season in Winnipeg and has earned over $25-million during his career. He’s also due to be paid another $1.3-million this season and next after having the final year of his contract bought out following a June trade to Montreal.

Mason has a young family and the ability to walk away from the sport on his own terms.
And the 2009 Calder Trophy winner will probably do just that unless a larger opportunity (and paycheque) emerges to lure him back.

Drew Stafford returns to New Jersey

Veteran forward Drew Stafford rejoined the New Jersey Devils on an $810,000, one-year contract over the weekend for reasons both obvious and not.

Yes, the 32-year-old is seen as a positive influence on teammates, trainers and staff, but Devils general manager Ray Shero also pointed to Stafford’s proficiency in the shootout during an otherwise up-and-down campaign last year as a reason why he was able to parlay his PTO into a one-way deal.

Stafford went 3-for-7 in the tiebreaker last season and is 18-for-54 on his career – putting him in the top-50 among NHL players all-time. He scored the shootout-deciding goal against Philadelphia on Feb. 13 for a Devils team that ended up finishing one point ahead of Florida for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

NHL planning more games in Europe

The NHL continues to hold global appeal. The league is seeing huge interest in the regular-season games played in Europe and is expected to take next season’s opener to Prague before holding two November games in Sweden.

Friendlies will be played in other cites beforehand, just as they were this season.
Fans packed the house at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden for Saturday’s meeting between New Jersey and Edmonton, and tickets for a pair of Winnipeg-Florida games next month in Helsinki were scooped up in less than 20 minutes.

Eugene Melnyk relishes Senators’ role as underdog

My colleague Elliotte Friedman had an interesting tidbit on “Headlines” about Senators owner Eugene Melnyk addressing the Board of Governors last Tuesday, telling the room that he remains committed to making things work in Ottawa and that he has no plans to sell the team.

Apparently Melnyk also said he relishes the role of underdog, and in business terms the Sens are just that: They played to 82.8 per cent capacity at Canadian Tire Centre in their home opener on Thursday, which suggests they might see attendance fall for a fifth straight season.

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