Just hours after the Toronto Maple Leafs capped off their season opener with an overtime victory over Montreal, William Nylander took the ice at chilly Lidingö Arena in central Stockholm for a skating session with a fellow unsigned pro.
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet caught up with the Leafs winger after he and Johan Lorraine, a 29-year-old who spent part of last season in the Czech second division, were put through their paces by skating coach Jocke Ahlgren. Nylander was sporting a beard and wearing his Leafs gear but didn’t report any progress in his contract stalemate with the team.
"Right now, I do not know more than all the rest of you," Nylander told Aftonbladet. "I have not received any messages and have no contact with Toronto. It’s my agent who takes care of everything."
The player and team are still believed to be dealing with a significant gap in negotiations on a contract that could run anywhere from six to eight years in length. Nylander is shouldering the most painful part of the standoff – now losing more than $30,000 in pay each day he remains unsigned.
After consecutive 61-point seasons, the 22-year-old winger stands to fall somewhere in the range of recent contracts given to Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers ($6-million AAV, seven years) and Boston’s David Pastrnak ($6.67-million AAV, six years). But his camp is clearly worried about locking him into a long-term deal that includes years where he could be an unrestricted free agent, only to see him immediately exceed the value of it with a significant jump in performance.
That’s not out of the question with a spot alongside Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau awaiting his return.
Nylander acknowledged to Aftonbladet that he’s currently sacrificing a lot of pay by sitting out but added: "In the end I have to take care of myself and do what I and my agent thinks is right. Especially if it’s about several years to come. I need to think long term. It’s my own future it’s about."
With a cap crunch coming, the Leafs are urging all their top players to consider the greater good when it comes to future contracts. Team president Brendan Shanahan seemed to be speaking directly to Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner when he mentioned to reporters on Wednesday that John Tavares left money on the table elsewhere by signing in Toronto on July 1.
"It wasn’t his responsibility to set a new bar or to please other people with other interests," Shanahan said of Tavares. "He’s a hockey player. He wanted to come here and win hockey games. He wanted to be treated fairly and he is. And yes, that is what is we would hope and expect from our players as we go forward."
Shanahan also made it clear how important Nylander remains to the organization. He said negotiations hadn’t turned contentious and seemed prepared to wait out the process.
The most immediate concern might be how close to game shape Nylander will be in when he eventually signs. He’s a top-conditioned athlete but won’t have the luxury of a three-week training camp like the one his teammates just went through.
"The guys that are here working every day are ahead of the guys who aren’t here working every day," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said earlier this week. "[Contract absences are] part of the business, we all understand that. It’s hard to manufacture the intensity we had today when you’re not here. It just doesn’t work like that."
For his part, Nylander told Aftonbladet he hadn’t considered joining a European-based team while waiting for a new deal.
And while he didn’t stay up in to the wee hours of the night to watch Toronto’s 3-2 victory over Montreal on Wednesday, he did note that Matthews and Tavares made special plays to beat Carey Price and secure an opening-night victory.
"I saw the highlights from the game in the morning," said Nylander. "Those were great goals. I want to play, but now it’s the way it is. But I want to stay in Toronto."