What we learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
The Center of the Hockey Universe Can Exhale
The Toronto Maple Leafs and restricted free-agent forward William Nylander faced a deadline of 5 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday for him to sign a new contract and be eligible to play for them this season. “I think the contract was signed at 4:53,” Nylander told reporters on Monday. “It was crazy. I didn’t believe it.”
The six-year deal, crafted to capitalize on the team’s cap space this season and leave room to keep Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews when their contracts end next summer, will have a salary-cap hit of $10.2 million this season and $6.96 million in each of the remaining five years. Nylander gets a $2-million signing bonus this season, an $8.3-million signing bonus in 2019-20 and signing bonuses of $3.5 million in each of the last four years. Nylander, who scored 61 points each of the last two seasons, wanted to stay.
The Maple Leafs wanted to keep a dynamic young player who will boost their chances of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. General manager Kyle Dubas handled an intense situation with great poise: There was no public rancor and he did his due diligence in exploring Nylander’s potential trade value even though he didn’t want to trade the 22-year-old Swede.
“It’s our intention to have him here as long as we’re here,” Dubas said. It’s a classic win-win — except for the Toronto media, which now must find something else to obsess over.
But is he Gritty?
Chuck Fletcher, who built the Minnesota Wild into a good team that was never quite good enough to get past the second round of the playoffs during his nine seasons as general manager, was appointed general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
Fletcher, a former Ducks executive, was fired by Minnesota last spring. Fletcher succeeds Ron Hextall, whose bosses lost patience with Hextall’s patient approach to restoring the Flyers to Cup-contending status. Dave Scott, chairman of the Flyers’ parent company, said in a news release Fletcher has “the right mix of expertise, business acumen and leadership qualities the Flyers need today as we work to achieve our ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup championship.”
Fletcher will need all that and more to turn around the Flyers, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. He has ties to former Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he tries to lure Quenneville to Philadelphia to replace current coach Dave Hakstol. At least goofy mascot Gritty has survived the management purge.
The NHL is ready to expand to Seattle
The Seattle group, led by financier David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, agreed to pay a $650-million expansion fee, money NHL owners won’t have to share with players. On deck for future expansion: Houston, suddenly a favorite, and Quebec City, which has a NHL-caliber arena. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday he projects the salary cap to be $83 million next season, up from $79.5 million this season.
The Islanders never should have left Nassau Coliseum
The failure to get much-needed renovations to their Long Island home sent the Islanders to the unfriendly confines of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the 2015-16 season, but they returned on Saturday to play the first of 21 games in the arena now called NYCB Live. Superficial fixes reduced the seating capacity to just under 14,000 but there are no obstructed views, as there are in Brooklyn because that arena was designed with basketball in mind. The Islanders filled the place and rocked it when they rallied to beat Columbus 3-2. They’re scheduled to move to a planned arena near Belmont Park race track for the 2021-22 season, but for at least part of this season they’ll be where they belong.