Quick Shifts: Nylander, Leafs toy with ‘mutually assured destruction’

Brian Burke joins Prime Time Sports and weighs in on the Toronto Maple Leafs' situation with William Nylander.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.

1. NHL player agent Anton Thun analyzes the impasse between William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs and flashes back to a concept he studied during a political science course at university.

Mutual assured destruction is the military doctrine that a nuclear attack from one country would trigger a retaliatory strike and ultimately annihilate both sides.

The team and the skater have 13 more days to play out this game of chicken before a crash. I wondered which side would be most damaged if no trade or contract is completed.

“If it goes to Dec. 1, it’s mutually assured destruction, in terms of that contract,” Thun told me at the PrimeTime Sports Conference this week.

“It’s a lose-lose situation. If it goes beyond Dec. 1, depending what William Nylander can earn from another franchise, which will probably be in the KHL, I expect it’ll be less than what he’d achieve in the NHL. To me, that’s a lose. And it’s also a lose for the Maple Leafs.”

Thun represented his own RFA this fall, Darnell Nurse, who settled a bridge deal near the opening of Oilers training camp in September.

That was by design. Nurse had imposed a personal deadline. He didn’t want to sit out pre-season.

“His goal was to have it done by training camp and get the best deal by then,” Thun said. “But that’s an individual choice.”

Thun posits that the Nylander case is a result of Leon Draisaitl’s eight-year, $68-million extension in 2017 potentially resetting the market for a secondary young star and could be the start of a small trend.

One needs to only look at the long list of star forwards who double as impending RFAs in 2019. Mikko Rantanen, Auston Matthews, Mich Marner, Sebastien Aho, Brayden Point and Matthew Tkachuk are all clipping at better than a point per game in their platform year.

“It has the potential to happen more often because the system is changing from a system where players, up to 2005, were not rewarded for their performance until they were 31 years old. It’s gone down to their first free-agency year, which technically is 27, to players getting rewarded coming out of their entry-level contract. Deservedly so,” Thun says.

“Younger players have significantly upset the balance in the National Hockey League. They are now the dominant players, rather than the 31-year-olds.”

OK. So what if this thing mutually destructs?

How does that affect the trade market for Nylander on Dec. 2 and onward? Is he branded as difficult?

Depends on the GM, Thun figures. “Some of whom are desperate to get Willy Nylander and others who won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.

“It really comes down to need. The last player to leave was Ilya Kovalchuk, and he was under contract with the New Jersey Devils. And when he decided to come back, he was welcomed with open arms by the L.A. Kings, and he got a good paycheque.

“Individual assessments of a player’s character by 31 general managers will determine their desire to enter into a negotiation with Willy Nylander.”

2. Wayne Gretzky didn’t hesitate when he was asked on the red carpet Monday who he’d put in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Kevin Lowe. I’m biased. I’m a teammate,” Gretzky said. “You’re an unselfish player, and you’re part of a dynasty and part of what makes a team great.”

Over his 1,254-game career, the defenceman was an all-star seven times even though he reached the 10-goal mark once.

In a nine-year span of his Oilers prime, from 1981-82 through 1989-90, Lowe was a plus-258 defender.

“When you’re kids, it’s all about having fun and scoring goals and just enjoying it. When you’re a professional athlete, it’s about winning. Championships, to me, are everything,” Gretzky argued.

“Kevin Lowe won six Stanley Cups. He was a huge part of that. I don’t know if we would’ve won those Cups without him, and he’s the one guy I think really deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

3. There was so much hockey-nerd gold to mine during Hall of Fame induction night, it would be impossible to cram it all into my wrap column, which was light on Alexander Yakushev content.

“He was sort of a combination of our Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr,” Gretzky says.

“Mark Messier and I got to spend one of the greatest lunches ever with Yakushev in Moscow, and we were telling him in ’72 he was our favourite Russian player. And in Edmonton, when you made a great play in practice, we would say, ‘That was Yakushevian.’

“And we were telling him the story, and he started crying. He didn’t believe us. But we admired him so much.

“The Russian influence has been incredible for our game.”

4. Gretzky, 57, says he gets this question from his children all the time: Dad, did you ever have a concussion?

“We probably did, but we didn’t know. So, hopefully, now we have enough knowledge that we can protect the players of today,” Gretzky says, “and hopefully take care, as best we can, of the players of the past.”

The gut reaction of many when looking at the NHL’s tentative $18.9 settlement of the concussion lawsuit was that the number is too low.

We asked Glenn Healy, president of the NHL Alumni Association, how he interprets the settlement.

“I don’t play the blame game; I play the hope game,” Healy said. “If we can get players and their families hope, I win. The players win, the families win, and I don’t get the call from a daughter or son that says, ‘I want my dad back.’ I don’t get that call.

“I think the biggest thing for us is that it’s a step. It’s a real step in the right direction to get hope back to families. The calls that I get are never from the player. They’re always from the wives, always from the kids that say to me, ‘I want Dad back.’ “

Healy stressed that the Alumni Association sees this as a starting point for making a stronger push to get retired players functionally integrated into the world so that they’re no longer the walking wounded.

“I need to get an answer for that — and I’m going to. I will fight for it,” Healy said. We’re going to fight for it with our own initiatives and there’ll be some news probably moving forward in a short time.

“There will never be an out-of-bounds [in hockey]. There will always be an issue with this. This is a fast, dangerous game, and we’re not going to stop until we can help every player.”

5. Donald Fehr was in Toronto when news of the settlement broke. The head of the NHLPA said the outcome isn’t surprising considering the league prevailed on its class-action motion.

“I’m just glad for the parties that it’s all over,” Fehr said. “Hopefully people can go on with their lives, and we can perhaps deal with these issues with the NHL without having to deal with the effect of the litigation.”

Fehr now plans to discuss with players where to go from here on concussion prevention and reserach, then approach the league.

The PA chief touched on a few other topics…

• Slava Voynov’s potential return: “He’s applied [for reinstatement] as I understand it. There will eventually be a proceeding before the commissioner. We’ll see what comes out of that and go from there. What we do is represent him because the prohibition on him playing is essentially disciplinary and that’s our own. But I don’t see anything happening imminently.”

• World Cup of Hockey 2020: “You would need an agreement on the World Cup by midwinter sometime for sure because you’re talking about doing it a year from September.”

• The successful Austin Watson appeal: “The arbitrator’s ruling essentially suggests the commissioner got it mostly right but not entirely. Whenever you’re in that situation, an individual who’s disciplined ought to have a right to go to a neutral. You have to look at it that way. Sometimes there’s bad P.R., and you live with it. You explain your position. Most people understand it.”

6. In Max Domi‘s best season with the Arizona Coyotes, he averaged 0.64 points per game. He’s humming along at a 1.21 points per game as a Montreal Canadien.

It’s a matter of a talented player finding the right city.

Domi needs to be in a hockey town, we suggest to Mark Hunter, his OHL general manager.

“Yes, he does,” agrees Hunter. “He wants to be in front of the fans.”

Hunter watched Domi pile up 102 points in his final season with the London Knights, the OHL’s most showtime franchise. Now he’s watching him pace all Canadiens in scoring, with 22 points.

“I’m so happy for him, guys. Montreal has done well for him. He needs to be there,” Hunter says.

“He was a great player for us in London. Very exciting. Fans loved him. They still talk about him til this day. My gut feeling: I knew he was going to do well in Montreal because he needs to be excited. When he’s excited? Whew.”

7. The next frontier in the gradual battle to shrink goaltending gear? Restricting the length of the pads from the knee up. But we’re still a long way from making that happen.

8. Scott Niedermayer is wonderful talking about what made Martin Brodeur different from the rest.

“I remember we were playing some basketball one day down in Florida,” the Devils legend recalls. “We had a day off. Most of us are terrible, couldn’t make a shot, and there’s Marty. It looks like he’s played basketball for 30 years. He was just a natural. He was a heck of an athlete.”

The Hall of Fame defenceman wants to debunk the theory that Brodeur’s stats were puffed up by a trap system and an all-world D corps.

“We were a defence-first team, but a big reason we could do that is because of him, because he was stopping the puck when he has to. He maybe didn’t stop 50 a night, but he stopped the one or two that he absolutely had to at the right time,” Niedermayer says.

“Especially as a defenceman, it allowed you to do things that maybe you couldn’t do with a different goalie because he knew he would make the stops that he was supposed to make.

“A lot of goalies like seeing more action, like seeing more shots. It’s easier to stay in the game. He could go a few minutes without seeing a puck and then, next thing you know, make a game-saving save.”

We ask Niedermayer what he misses from his era.

“Some of the other players that maybe weren’t as fast. I don’t know if artistry is the right word,” he says, “but the game is so fast all the time now that back then there was some fast players but also some slower-developing plays that were fun to watch and were entertaining and fun to play, whereas now the game is so fast that those types of plays are almost gone.

“You look at all defencemen now that are in the league, and they all can skate and they all have skill. Back when I started in the league, there were a couple of us that could and then a couple of big guys that were punishing the other guys. So, it was a real mix of characters on the blue line.”

9. Shoutout to Steve Dangle, an absolute fund-raising monster. He invited me to participate in the Eric Lindros Celebrity Hockey Classic last week, and it was a blast playing in support of Easter Seals.

I skated on a line with Sportsnet Central anchor Ken Reid (buy his book), and he wears this hilarious throwback Jofa helmet with no shield.

Reid opened a gash on the bridge of his nose in Game 1 when, ironically, his face mashed into an opponent’s visor. (He blamed the busted nose on “trying.”)

So Lindros arrives for the day with his gear slung over his shoulder, walks by our bench and sees Reid leaking blood underneath the Jofa.

“Good thing you’re on radio,” Lindros deadpans.

Line of the day.

Runner-up for that award might go to Billy Smith: “I’m OK with people bleeding as long as it’s not me.”

Why do I feel like that’s a Clint Eastwood quote?

I grew up a diehard Oilers fan and despised Smith for slashing Gretzky. For my eighth birthday, my dad cut a life-sized goaltender out of plywood and painted him up to look like Smith so I could score on No. 31 a zillion times in the driveway.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Smith, now 67, in the room and was disappointed to discover he’s a nice man.

“Hey, Billy, how many Stanley Cups did you win?” a man too young to see his dynasty asked.

“Just four,” he said.

Smith stopped playing goal in these charity tournaments five years ago because he likes to skate out of his net and most beer-leaguers don’t keep their heads up. The collisions turned him off.

He’s now a stay-at-home defenceman, decked head-to-toe in modern official Islanders gear that the team mailed to him. The next time he jumps up in the rush will be the first, but he assures his netminders they won’t see any shots from the slot.

“Everything will come from the outside,” he guaranteed.

10. Brodeur’s name is splattered all over the record books, but Lou Lamoriello had an excellent answer to his goalie’s greatest accomplishment.

“Winning,” Lamoriello said. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Is there a lasting image from those Stanley Cup runs?

“What you remember is the faces of the players after they’ve won, and the joy each one of their teammates were to each other at that given time, and all the sacrifice was worth it,” Lamoriello said.

“I think that’s the greatest feeling to have.”

11. Brian Burke can’t recall ever giving out a full-no-move contract himself, but he did inherit some.

Burke was the Maple Leafs GM in 2011, and defenceman Tomas Kaberle was in the final year of his deal. Wanting to get a return for Kaberle as a deadline rental, Burke asked his agent for a list of teams.

The agent declined, saying Kaberle wanted to play out his contract in Toronto and had a full no-movement clause.

“OK, then. He’s played his last game here,” Burke shot back. “Amazingly, we got a list of teams.”

Kaberle hopped off an 18-wheeler and joined Boston at the best of times.

“Players usually waive it and say, ‘I want to go somewhere and win.’ It got Tomas Kaberle a ring,” Burke said on Sportsnet 650.

So just because Alexander Edler has a no-move doesn’t mean he won’t be asked to waive it — if the overachieving Canucks fall out of the playoff race by February.

Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup
Brian Burke: I'd ask Edler to waive NTC
November 15 2018

12. Road trips with Dad are the best…

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.