TORONTO — Less than a week remains for William Nylander to put his signature on an NHL contract if he is to participate in the 2018-19 season, but if there is any concern on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ bench that the top-line forward won’t be rejoining the group this week, they aren’t showing it.
Superstar Auston Matthews (left shoulder injury) is expected to shed the non-contact sweater and return to the lineup in the coming days as well.
“It’s my assumption we’re getting both back,” head coach Mike Babcock said Saturday following the club’s 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. “Obviously, we’ll be a better hockey club when we have them both. They give you a whole other line and give you much more depth. Ideally, that’s what you had in mind when you started the year.
“I expected to have them a lot sooner than we have, but we’ll be excited to have them both.”
Matthews had racked up 10 goals and six assists in just 10-and-a-half games before a hard check from Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba sidelined him for roughly a month.
Nylander’s prolonged contract impasse has kept him away from the team for more than a quarter-season, and he’s watched the Leafs go 16-8 without him in the lineup.
A six-year contract is still on the table, with Nylander asking for an annual salary in the ballpark of $6.9 million, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Saturday night. Failing that, a bridge deal could serve as Plan B.
The financial gap between player and club is narrowing, but it must meet before the Dec. 1 deadline.
“It’s really exciting. Those two guys bring a lot to this team, so it’ll be special having those two back, and it just adds depth to our team that we need,” leading scorer Mitch Marner said.
“It’s just gonna make teams’ matchups harder and be more worried about each line.”
Despite the Leafs’ positive results in the face of two major absences, the impending return of one, if not two, star forwards to Toronto’s top six will have a ripple effect on roster decisions down the lineup.
There won’t be room for everyone.
“I don’t think they’re sensing it — I think they know it,” Babcock said. “They’re smart guys.”