‘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.
NYLANDER AND THE LEAFS’ STANLEY CUP WINDOW
As we wind into the 11th hour of the William Nylander negotiations with some encouraging signs about an impending extension in Toronto, it’s worth considering what this might mean for the Maple Leafs’ window to compete for a Stanley Cup.
There’s a case to be made that it’ll never be more open than right now.
This is the final season of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner playing on cost-controlled entry-level contracts. Even if you forecast more growth for them in years ahead, they will be increasingly relied upon to elevate a roster with less money committed to the players around them.
It’s not a stretch to imagine John Tavares ($11 million), Nylander (TBD, perhaps $6.85 million?), Matthews (TBD, perhaps $12 million?) and Marner (TBD, perhaps $9.5 million?) accounting for nearly half of the team’s salary cap space next season — and that’s forecasting for a universe where both Matthews and Marner elect not to maximize their potential earnings.
The future can arrive quickly in a cap system.
The challenge for the Leafs front office is balancing the demands of both today and tomorrow, especially with their stated aspiration of contending for a sporting generation rather than going all-in to win one Cup after 50-plus years of watching almost everyone else get a chance to lift it.
Even if Nylander signs for a little less than $7 million per season, as we reported on Headlines, the Leafs are extremely well-positioned under the cap this year. They’ve accrued tons of space already and could add significant rental pieces before the trade deadline, if desired.
But that would likely require them to deal away futures — either in picks or prospects — and that’s a risky proposition given the need they’ll have in years ahead for guys on cheap contracts to play around the Core Four.
It helps explain why the team has negotiated so hard with Nylander, who started with an ask of the Leon Draisaitl deal ($8.5 million AAV) but has adjusted his position with Saturday’s 5 p.m. ET signing deadline looming.
There’s only so much to go around.
The Leafs let James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov walk out the door last summer and may have to do the same with pending UFA defenceman Jake Gardiner this coming July 1. It’s only a matter of time before a huge chunk of their payroll is tied up in four high-end forwards.
Some food for thought as we wait for the plume of white smoke to go up above Scotiabank Arena, signalling the end of the Nylander saga.
He was taken at No. 3 just over three years ago — ahead of Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, Zach Werenski, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser and a couple other impact players.
You don’t normally see a team cut ties with someone of that pedigree so soon. It’s a calculated risk for Arizona GM John Chayka, who gets back a more established NHLer (albeit a struggling one) in 22-year-old centre Nick Schmaltz while shipping Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago.
The trade hinges on what happens next for Strome, who was better than a point-per-game player in his age-20 season in the American Hockey League last year. That rate of production is typically a harbinger of good things to come.
Strome will start as Chicago’s second-line centre, playing behind Jonathan Toews. It will be interesting to see what he does with a change of scenery and improved opportunity. And if he can prove the Coyotes wrong for giving up on him so soon.
This was taken Friday afternoon outside Nationwide Arena in Columbus:
Four pillars of a Blue Jackets team hanging around the top of the Metropolitan Division — but only two of which are signed through next season.
Nothing has changed for either Bobrovsky or Panarin since the summer. They’re each content to play out the year in Columbus, but haven’t engaged the Blue Jackets in meaningful negotiations on an extension with the possibility of unrestricted free agency looming July 1.
What’s interesting is how the organization has handled the situation: Calmly and directly.
After early speed bumps, coach John Tortorella said there was a team meeting with some frank discussion about where things are at with the two stars. They tried to chase the elephant from the room.
Management, meanwhile, seems prepared to get whatever it can out of this season and then proceed from there. The Blue Jackets are aching for a playoff run. Trading away one or both of the Russians doesn’t appear to be in the cards, especially if the team maintains a strong foothold in the standings.
A text from an Eastern Conference-based front office member after news broke of Ken Hitchcock’s hiring by the Oilers: “Edmonton just made the playoffs.”
He expects Hitch to make defensive adjustments that ease the burden on goalies Cam Talbot and Mikko Koskinen, who are 27th overall with a combined .889 save percentage.
Edmonton is on the wrong side of the playoff ledger on the wrong side of U.S. Thanksgiving, but plays out of the mediocre Pacific Division. Never say never.
Just something to keep an eye on: Ilya Kovalchuk, he of the multiple free-agent opportunities and $18.75-million, three-year contract with Los Angeles this summer, has seen a diminished role since Willie Desjardins took over the Kings interim coaching duties earlier this month.
Kovy played just 6:20 against Edmonton on Sunday night, the fifth-fewest minutes in his 839-game NHL career. Under Desjardins, he’s posted per-game totals of 15:45, 20:48, 19:48, 15:02, 16:12, 16:25, 12:47, 16:02 and 13:23 and been held without a point in nine straight.
While still too early to forecast where this is headed, it’s worth noting that the Kovalchuk deal includes a full no-movement clause in Years 1 and 2.
Safe to say this season hasn’t gone how either he or the Kings expected so far.
THE BABY BLUES
As a baby of the 1980s, I began watching hockey at a time when “Hockey Night in Canada” had a very specific look and feel. The tone was set by the baby blue blazers.
While it’s an honour to be associated with this great Canadian institution every week as part of the Headlines panel, it was doubly so Saturday when we paid tribute to our past in the name of a good cause.
It was a real thrill for all of us to wear the baby blues. Bidding on the jackets runs through Wednesday, with proceeds going to Hockey Fights Cancer.