Some of William Nylander’s teammates arrived at the arena early before their Saturday night game against the Minnesota Wild, eagerly anticipating news of a contract extension that would bring the star forward back to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup.
When coach Mike Babcock told them Nylander had signed a six-year deal, they were thrilled. Then they got their cell phones out.
“Babs popped out of the office and said we signed him,” Mitch Marner said after Toronto’s 5-3 win in St. Paul. “Of course everyone nowadays just goes right to a phone, so about 20 of us go over, grab our phones. The next thing you know, you see the signing.
“We’re all really excited about it. We can’t wait to get him back in Toronto.”
Nylander, a restricted free agent, signed moments before the 5 p.m. ET deadline Saturday, inking a deal that will pay him an average annual value of US$6.9 million, and allow him to play the rest of the season.
His entry-level contract had expired July 1 and negotiations stretched through the summer and into the season, ultimately forcing the 22-year-old winger to miss a third of the 2018-19 campaign.
“It’s great. It’s great news. We hope to get him here as soon as possible,” said star centre Auston Matthews. “He’s a big part of this team. Hopefully he gets us on a run here, get in a couple practices.
“It’s the same thing coming back from injury — you need a couple games to kind of get going but I’m sure he’s been skating quite a bit and he’s excited to get back with his teammates and start playing some hockey games.”
Toronto, labelled a Cup contender early on, has done well in Nylander’s absence, going 19-8-0 to sit second in the Atlantic Division after 27 games.
The Maple Leafs have won four straight and eight of their last 10.
“A lot of depth, guys obviously stepping up in big moments,” Matthews said of Toronto’s success despite missing Nylander. “I think that’s a big key to our team and something we have going for us that not a lot of teams do is having a lot of depth. When guys go down, other guys step up and we’ve got tons of skill to go with it.”
Nylander is coming off back-to-back 61-point seasons, including a 2017-18 campaign that saw him score 20 goals and add 41 assists.
The Calgary-born Swede has 48 goals and 87 assists for 135 points in 185 career games. Nylander has added two goals and six assists in 13 playoff outings.
“I’m very happy. He’s a big part of the team. We’ve been saying that all along,” Marner said. “Having him back, it’s just going to add more fire to this team and make us deeper.
“It’s exciting. I can’t wait to have him back. He’s a great player, so we’re excited about it.”
The Canadian Press