Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson (18) greets goalie Garret Sparks (40) as they celebrate a 6-0 win over Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ont.Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

With the Toronto Maple Leafs expecting to get at least Auston Matthews back this week and maybe William Nylander as well, Andreas Johnsson decided it was time to make his case to stay in the lineup.

Johnsson, who has not scored the way his bosses hoped this season, kicked into gear with three goals in a span of less than eight minutes in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Since Matthews may return from a shoulder injury for Wednesday’s home game against the San Jose Sharks, Johnsson and a few other Leafs are on notice.

Perhaps Johnsson was spurred on by Leafs head coach Mike Babcock’s relentless optimism that Nylander will sign a contract ahead of the NHL’s Saturday deadline and join his old linemate Matthews. If so, there will be an intense session of musical chairs in a couple of weeks once Nylander gets in game shape.

“It’s my assumption we’re getting both back,” Babcock said after Saturday’s win. “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. We’ll be excited to have them both.”

It’s safe to assume if anyone has inside information about Nylander ending his contract impasse with Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, and signing a new contract before he is prohibited to play for the rest of the season by the league deadline, it would be Babcock. While there have been no concrete developments from either side in the past few days despite all the sound and fury, it was reported on Hockey Night in Canada they may be getting closer to a long-term deal.

The sense of optimism that both Matthews and Nylander will be back was not quite as pronounced among the players. But there is no question it is a major topic among them.

“It will be special having those two back,” said winger Mitch Marner, who sounded the most positive note. “It just adds depth to our team that we need. It makes our team matchup harder and [opponents] be more worried about every line.”

Marner’s centre, John Tavares, suggested no one should get carried away. After all, while it is likely Matthews will return this week there is no guarantee. He has to have at least one practice with contact before he plays, judging by the Leafs protocol in such matters. Since the Leafs had Sunday off and play the Boston Bruins on Monday night, the first opportunity for that is Tuesday, which points to a Wednesday return.

“Keep going one day at a time,” Tavares said when asked if he thought this would be a good week for the Leafs. “[Sunday] is an off-day, so I think we’ll enjoy that.

“Obviously, we’ve got one of the best players in the world getting close to coming back. No question that will be a big boost for our lineup. We’ll keep plugging away, keep getting better.”

No one enjoyed Saturday’s win more than the former Toronto Marlies in the Leafs’ lineup. Johnsson and goaltender Garret Sparks, who earned his second NHL shutout. They played together on the Leafs’ farm team last spring and won the AHL championship.

Johnsson, the AHL playoff MVP whose production dropped off this season, didn’t quite know what to make of his first-period hat trick, which gave him five goals for the season.

"Ya know, I had first goal, then second goal and all of a sudden third one. Like, what’s going on?” he said.

The goaltender he scored on was also an ex-teammate on that Marlies team. Calvin Pickard was Sparks’s backup before he was lost to the Flyers on waivers as this season started. While Johnsson scored all three of his goals between Pickard’s legs, he claimed not to have benefited by any inside information.

However, Sparks was not talking when he was asked if he passed anything along to Johnsson. “No comment,” he said.

The Leafs goalie did admit to some pangs at seeing his old friend Pickard chased from the net in the first period after allowing four goals on six shots. “I love Picks but I love Johnny, too, so it’s hard,” Sparks said.

Finally, in this space on Saturday there was a discussion about the influence William Nylander’s father Michael has on his son’s contract negotiations. It was mentioned the elder Nylander once agreed to a contract with the Edmonton Oilers and bolted to the Washington Capitals for less money before it was signed and the Oilers learned this through the media, not from Nylander or his agent at the time, Michael Gillis. However, Gillis was also not informed of the change by his client and he, too, learned of the change through the media.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe