Of course, in the end, William Nylander signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs had to be cinematic. A phone call made from the player’s camp minutes before a 5 p.m. ET Saturday deadline. A number finally agreed upon. The fine details shuffled back and forth. A scramble to make sure every page of the contract got through to the NHL office intact and in time.
It had to be that way because, had it not, you’d be left asking yourself, “Remind me again why this took so long?”
After it’s over, everyone is anxious to portray an enormous waste of time and effort as some sort of unavoidable stepping stone to greatness.
Instead, it’s what it appears – a simple problem with an obvious solution that for reasons that will never be explained became a yearlong boondoggle.
It did give Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas the chance to go up and down the org chart, metaphorically high-fiving all his assistants in the accounting department.
And it did give Nylander the chance to send out the obligatory social-media post about leaving his base in Stockholm and “going home.”
(You know where home is? The place you end up when you’re out of a job.)
But nobody won here. Everybody is left looking different degrees of foolish.
If Nylander was willing to concede for US$6.9-million per annum over six years – a symbolic smidgen under the halfway point between the reported $8-million he wanted versus the $6-million Toronto was offering – why not do that last summer?
If this was about betting on himself, why not push for fewer years and trust that he’d be in a position to demand really big money once they were up, à la Nikita Kucherov?
Or, having dragged this out until the final hour, why not sit out? That would’ve shown some people.
Instead, Nylander agreed to the sort of deal that must have been available months ago.
Now that he has his extra money, Nylander will have to take on a few new responsibilities. He’ll be the team’s sin eater, its whipping post and, if it goes sideways at any point between now and the Stanley Cup, its scapegoat.
By the end, Toronto fans had fallen into two camps on Nylander – either celebrating his Ayn Rand-ian commitment to self-interest; or cursing him for his greed. Neither viewpoint had any warmth to it.
Fairly or not, he has become notorious in the NHL as a whiner and a daddy’s boy, and that image will never detach itself from him.
Nylander was never the sort of player fans fall in love with – too slick, too remote, and not quite good enough – but now that this has happened, nobody ever will.
Though Leafs coach Mike Babcock had said he wanted Nylander back “as soon as possible,” Dubas put the brakes on that idea. Nylander needs medical testing and on-ice prep so as not to “forgo his health and well-being.”
Coincidentally, that means he won’t return until this weekend in Boston, at the start of a nearly two-week long trip.
I suppose the last thing you want is your prodigal son showing back up after being forgiven, only to be booed off the ice by 20,000 other members of the family. That would not be great for Nylander’s health and well-being, so best not to take the chance.
Nylander has got his money – money he was always going to get – at the cost of a pristine reputation. He didn’t know what he wanted, but knew he wanted it. The impression left is that of silliness.
While Nylander takes the brunt of it, the Leafs also come out of this misadventure dented.
There is the issue of making Nylander whole this year by overpaying him for what remains of the season. He’s on the books for a pro-rated US$10-million.
So what exactly is the punishment for a player who has dropped and begun flailing in the NHL’s grocery aisle because he hasn’t got exactly what he wants? One who has done so during a championship-calibre season on a team that hasn’t had one of those since the Beatles were a thing? And one who refused comment throughout, forcing his teammates to take his negotiating proxy in the press?
Nothing, as it turns out.
No, no, that’s just fine with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Come on home. Don’t even worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes and, hey, here’s a couple million more to make you feel better about yourself. Take a few days. Get some sleep, buy a Porsche, whatever you kids do.
Nylander may (and should) get the bum’s rush out of town at some point in the near future, but Dubas & Co’s “gently, gently, PANIC, gently” approach is what people will remember. In particular, people such as the agents for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Assuming the Leafs do not win a Stanley Cup this year, the team will be desperate that this goon show not be repeated next summer with far more valuable players. It’s an agent’s job to leverage that desperation.
They now know that however poorly things go, there will be no financial repercussions in the end.
They can get as ugly as they want and Dubas will smile afterward and say, “I do appreciate the amount of work and effort that [Nylander’s agent] Lewis [Gross] put into this and William throughout. They were very responsive and good to deal with.”
He said that. “Good to deal with.” And what, dare I ask, would have constituted “bad to deal with?” Showing up to meetings with a few bikers in the retinue?
It’s like the Romans used to say – if you want peace, prepare for war. The Leafs have worked it the other way around.
They got away with it because in the end, nobody believed William Nylander was integral to a winning team, and so Nylander gave in.
What happens when a real negotiating war is upon them, involving someone who can’t be put on the shelf without real consequences?
That will also result in peace eventually – these things always do – but maybe the sort of peace that looks more like surrender.