Why the Maple Leafs have already won the William Nylander saga

The Hockey Night in Canada panel discuss how the clock is ticking on the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, the Montreal Canadiens looking to add experience and possible coaching moves.

By the time the next edition of my Monday column hits the internet next week we’ll know whether William Nylander is back with the Toronto Maple Leafs but however it turns out, I’ve seen enough:

The Leafs have won – which is bad news for the haters who, frankly, might as well look away right now. Can I direct you to our Oilers coverage? Canucks? Canadiens? Patrik Laine? Flames, perhaps? Eugene Melnyk, anyone?

The tea leaves – at least those read by people in the position to know people in the position to know about these things – suggest that the Leafs and Nylander will close the gap before the Dec. 1 deadline and come to an agreement on at least a bridge contract or even the nirvana of a six-year deal at something under $44 million? I mean, honest to god: Mike Babcock’s developed a nervous twitch from all the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, pussyfooting he’s doing with the media whenever Nylander’s name is mentioned.

The game is over. The Leafs have won. Even if the damned thing goes pear-shaped in the next 72 hours, as of this time we know that general manager Kyle Dubas can not only keep a secret, but he seems to have the courage of his convictions. I’m not sure that strategically this was the way to approach getting the core of this team locked up long term. I would have preferred getting Auston Matthews done last summer (although I know John Tavares’ contract sucked a lot of the oxygen out of things) and I’m pretty certain I would have made Nylander wait until I’d paid Mitch Marner, because on my priority list the Swede is a clear and distant No 3. But knowing that Matthews and Marner and their agents and parents were watching how this played out, that the long game here is the one game Dubas can’t afford to lose, I like the fact that their takeaways are:

1. Dubas has balls. It’s easier to negotiate when the other side is prepared to stake out ground.

2. The organization is quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, and can even run and chew gum at the same time if it wants. It can handle difficult negotiations without blowing up bridges, and will go the extra miles – like, flying to Switzerland – to get a deal done.

3. The guts of the group are good. The players can handle these issues without saying something stupid. Ditto for Babcock.

And as if that’s not enough, let’s consider what Kasperi Kapanen has done in the absence of Nylander. He has played up his trade value beyond all recognition, and opened an unexpected avenue for Dubas to explore in the future. Conventional wisdom remains that the Leafs’ defence corps is not strong enough for a playoff run, but that Morgan Rielly is indeed good enough to be a No. 1 defender. So perhaps Dubas can use Kapanen for a smaller upgrade on the blue line and try to add a second-round draft pick to the mix. For a team with salary cap issues going forward, a future prospect that won’t count onerously against the salary cap for two or three years is infinitely preferable to a depth player, no?


In which we look ahead to the Leafs’ biggest game of the season – right, amiright?… become Zion-ists … celebrate London as a city in a shade of blue … and consider the Troy Tulowitzki trade that seems to have coughed up another gem for the Rockies.

• For the Leafs, injuries take a little of the significance away from Monday’s game against the Bruins, whose 5-1 win 16 days ago at TD Garden is the only ‘I told you so’ moment for Leafs skeptics. Unless the Leafs lose, in which case it becomes a ‘thing.’ #BearDown

• Steph Curry (groin) is expected to return to the Warriors’ lineup on their five-game road trip but not likely when it begins Thursday at Scotianbank Arena against the Raptors. #CallMeInTheSpring

• I love R.J. Barrett, but holy mother of God: watching Zion Williamson of Duke in that Maui Classic was damned near a transcendental experience. #LeBron

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• Manchester City are rampant, and have become only the second non-London club in top-flight history to win six matches in a row in London. Portsmouth turned the trick in 1950-51. #Blimey

• The Troy Tulowitzki trade is a gift that keeps on giving: Rockies minor-leaguer Jesus Tinoco, part of that deal with the Jays, finished third in ERA and sixth in WHIP in the Arizona Fall League. #Futures

• The Raps can’t look past the Grizzlies Tuesday ahead of the Warriors coming to town: Memphis has held all 13 opponents this month under that team’s scoring average entering the game and they’ve held opponents under 100 points eight times. #ClawBack

• Browns’ Damarious Randall looks a knob for handing his interception to former head coach Hue Jackson on the Bengals sideline. I realize it passes for high humour in the NFL’s intellectual vacuum, but it’s a cheap gesture #Business


Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred does indeed owe all of us an explanation for the $5,000 donation its PAC (political action committee) made to Confederate and lynch-loving Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi. It’s not that there’s anything untoward or outrageous in sports leagues giving out campaign donations or canoodling with lobbyists – they’re matters of public record: just check OpenSecrets.org or Pro Publica and you’ll see MLB has spent $990,000 (U.S.) this year alone on lobbyists to deal with matters as varied as government relations and (wait for it) intellectual property rights and violations of stadium airspace by drones.

The NFL has spent $1.28 million this season, while the NHL has spent a modest $40,000. There is nothing criminal or even immoral about sports leagues and players associations pushing their agendas in Congress, but Major League Baseball has a greater vested interest in playing the game than other sports because of the historic importance of its anti-trust exemption. So it’s understandable money would be spent on campaigns – $245,000 in this election cycle – just in case one of the politicians ends up on a committee dealing with issues of interest to baseball. (As an aside, friend of the show Marc Edelman, law professor at the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, suggested on Twitter that MLB’s endgame might be convincing the state of Mississippi to share gambling revenues, which it currently does not).

Still, giving the maximum allowable donation to a politician like Hyde-Smith just days after she suggested she’d like a front-row seat to public hangings, spoke in favour of voter suppression, and who attended an openly segregated school and sent her kid to it (which surely must be of note to baseball’s African-American players, coaches, executives and fans) is another thing entirely.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN


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