TORONTO – This road trip to Toronto doesn’t feel quite the same for David Pastrnak.
The Boston Bruins’ dynamic young star would typically go out for dinner the night before one of these hotly anticipated divisional battles against the Toronto Maple Leafs with William Nylander, whom Pastrnak considers one of his closest friends and you consider his closest contract comparable.
The longtime pals would lob good-natured chirps at each other and an extra bit of jump would find its way into their skates for a rivalry game like this — to the point where Leafs coach Mike Babcock once joked that he considered buying a No. 88 figurine and placing it in Nylander’s stall every night to draw out the Pasta factor in the Toronto winger’s effort.
But with Nylander still unsigned and waiting out negotiations back in Sweden — five more days (tick, tock) — Pastrnak’s interactions with his buddy have been limited to text messages and phone calls.
“I miss him around here, y’know,” Pastrnak said Monday, sweating clear through his dress shirt post-skate. “So I wish him well and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Pastrnak and Nylander, now 22, first met as teammates with Sodertalje as dominant 15-year-olds whose on-ice chemistry and love for the game trumped their inability to communicate without an assist from Google Translate.
But as close as the two players are — both 2014 first-rounders striking success as first-line right wings on Atlantic Division contenders — Pastrnak didn’t have the stomach for the type of prolonged contract impasse Nylander is taking to the wire.
After wowing the league with back-to-back campaigns of 34 and 35 goals and evolving into an 80-point dynamo who added another 20 points over just 12 playoff games last spring, surely Pastrnak could’ve squeezed the Bruins for more cash coming out of his entry-level deal than the six-year, $40-million contract ($6.67 AAV) he inked in mid-September 2017.
“If you asked me when I was 15 years old if I was going to be playing for $6 million a year when I’m 22, I would be like, ‘I don’t think you’re saying the truth.’ It’s just dream come true for me. I’m happy for what I’m getting. I could be playing in Czech, right? For a couple hundred bucks a month. So I’m really happy,” Pastrnak said.
“I just want to play. My agent [J.P. Barry] came up to me and said, ‘This is what you should sign.’ So I signed it, and I went to Boston.”
Just because the circumstances around Pastrnak’s financial tussle, which only cost him one missed day of training camp in 2017, and Nylander’s are similar doesn’t mean the differences aren’t worth noting.
By comparison, Pastrnak, who lost his hockey-loving father, Milan, to cancer, had a modest upbringing. He also has better stats, and his 17 goals this season place him third in the Rocket Richard race. But Nylander is bargaining under a higher cap.
And although both stars could point to Leon Draisaitl’s monstrous eight-year, $68-million extension in Edmonton as the new ceiling to haggle under, the internal cap configurations of their respective clubs make for unique situations.
Pastrnak’s cap hit slides nicely between that of Patrice Bergeron’s $6.85 million and Brad Marchand’s $6.125 million, establishing economic equilibrium on one of the top lines in hockey.
“It’s arguably the best in the league,” John Tavares said. “Their chemistry is hard to find.”
Tavares has raised the upper end of the Leafs’ payroll to $11 million, however, and Nylander’s partner, Auston Matthews, should bump it even higher when he inks. Nylander doesn’t want the gap between his and Matthews and Mitch Marner’s earnings to be a cavern.
“You got to give him some respect, right? He’s sitting out for a while and he’s patient. Whatever it is at the end of the day, you gotta be patient and get what you think you deserve. It’s for your whole life,” Pastrnak said.
“I don’t talk to him about this stuff. I kinda knew how it was last year, everybody trying to talk to you about contracts. So, we don’t really talk about it and just keep it the normal way.”
The Maple Leafs travel to Boston again on Dec. 8.
The normal way would be for Nylander and Pastrnak to grab a bite, share some laughs, celebrate the newfound wealth their passion has provided them, and wonder what a Bruins-Leafs rematch would look like in April.
“It’s definitely hard for him to not play now,” Pastrnak said.
“I really feel like hopefully it’s going to be over soon so he can play some hockey.”