We haven’t officially started up yet but there’s big Leafs news on the horizon as you know that we felt should be addressed.
In 2015 I was doing the Leafs blog thing at LeafsHub.com and one of the perks became that I got to play media. What I mean by that is we were able to cover certain Maple Leafs events like Marlies games and the annual Rookie Tournament. Basically I was allowed to pretend I was a reporter or something, and during one of these weekend tournaments I got my initial impression of William Nylander. Both on ice and a little off. His on ice performance, the talent was undeniable. It was exciting as a fan just to know what was coming. Off ice, off ice he fell head first into a stereotype this “hockey man” was all to willing to swallow. I already had the pepper out. I ate it up, every last bite.
Thinking back I know I’m telling stories out of school right now but it’s important in what I’m trying to say.
Willy was a bit late for his scrum. I think more than a bit for whatever reason, so the jokes surfaced he was busy working on his hair. When the Scandanavian God did appear it seemed it wasn’t a joke anymore. He was glorious. Comically gorgeous hair. But there’s “primadona seed #1” in my head.
Next, one of our bloggers was there in the stands and stuck around for an autograph session, where he told us how young William was a bit on the cold side. Really eh. Breaking ball freezes him, Strike Two on Willy for a guy like myself who put character above all else and that’s what we were hearing about from top, crest above all.
Later on that weekend over some drinks talk flowed about a rookie lipping off to a popular vet during scrimmages. Outside corner, fastball. Looking. That’s an ol’ boy Strike Three, folks.
From there you find yourself looking for it. I should mention as well I’m a Marner fan to the point of mockery so you can’t help but get caught playing rival in your head. Own your bias. An opinion is now being framed, all you need is a way to lay the foundation and start putting walls up.
I’ll use a Marlies playoff game as an example early in his career where he didn’t come back and catch the trailer (where he probably could have) on a goal that turned out making the difference in a game in a series he was already called out in by his then coach, Sheldon Keefe. Presto, add it all up and we’ve got ourselves an entitled Swedish floater storyline in the making and I had all the ingredients to feed for years.
Keep in mind as I’ve eluded to, you are talking to a chartered member of the old guard. Although inactive currently, I still hold my card. Now I’m tongue in cheek here because there’s no real chance True Blue is looking to slag on anyone of experience or people who have given their life to hockey. When I hear “hockey man” it is not funny to me. It is not a “he he”. We think of volunteer coaches, people who care and are at the rinks all the time with a wealth of knowledge. Inside it, in the rooms instilling values to guide our youth through life. That’s who I think of and they usually deserve some level of respect. Today, it is a punch-line.
But you know what, I get it. Its more than fine because I really really do get it and I’ll tell you why.
The mentality of what is referred to as the “200 hockey men”, how did we get there? Well over and throughout time our views have been sculpted to take those type pieces of information I referenced above, shots at Willy’s character, and especially if skilled (hi Tyler Seguin) put them all together and come up with phrases like “You can’t win with a guy like him.” or “He’s a cancer.”
I’ve walked this exact path and picked the flowers along the way to reaching statements like these and here’s what I can tell you now, without hesitation. It’s mostly horseshit. Yeah, while I was busy framing Willy as a little prick I didn’t talk about when I saw him in the hall later that weekend stretched out with his beats on and nothing but a beautiful kind smile. Or getting his picture with a group of girls and laughing so big from his heart. I get a tear in my eye right now thinking of that innocent kid, just playing hockey.
Now does that mean all of a sudden I think William Nylander is the perfect boy and teammate every moment of his life? Well he isn’t here so until then I’m not checking any box. Does it mean you don’t have a right to be upset he hasn’t signed whatever offer is in front of him? Of course you do. It’s just so complicated. Listen I flipped right out a couple weekends ago. Was wild at him. We’re all upset over this in our own way. But what I will tell you is you can create that image I laid out above with anyone. Any of the kids. You can take fragments from even Auston Matthews young career and portray him in a bad light. Mitch, absolutely. The problem for Willy is he lends himself to it. I don’t know if that’s the right wordage, more that he is vulnerable or susceptible to hockey labelling from every angle.
First the “evil” Dad, who I might say we haven’t heard a single comment from in any way. Sure we know Michael’s rep as a teammate and have heard tales but really at the root it’s contrived conjecture that he has done anything but support his son to make the best decision from their point of view. Can you guess he’s been a problem? Guess away and you might be right but if you don’t think every parent is involved and in this instance given his vantage point and feelings about these contractual agreements being an ex-pro who was well traveled, we should expect it. Nothing is black or white.
And despite Lidstrom and Forsberg we are still hanging on to our stigmas. Swedes have no heart, right? He was born in Calgary and raised in the U.S.? Okay, but you don’t see Willy at Patty’s house with the kids either. You don’t see Willy on fishing trips. So what must that mean? Bad in the room, perhaps? And what about that disappearing act in the playoffs. He’s just not clutch, right? The effort just isn’t there. He’s poor in his own end. What’s fact and what is fiction.
Here’s what I think. William Nylander marches to his own beat. Athletes of today will, get used to it. The beat is probably really fkn cool. I use to fight hard and sometimes dirty to procure what I thought to be the good parts of “hockey culture”, but one of the bad is the cookie cutter mentality of everyone acting a certain way, following certain guidelines, being a “gud pro”. Now don’t get me wrong there, you want good professionals and team concept is EVERYTHING. We aren’t throwing out the baby with the bath water here. But what else you want is players to be comfortable in their skin and act themselves. You want individuals to rise. You want high end game breaking skill and you want goals, baby. Willy plays hard on the puck too don’t kid yourself. He’s special. And if you want to do photo-shoots or run high profile charity events or do commercials, give ‘er. All these labels we’ve put on players like Kuznetsov for dancing, or Kadri not too long back for partying (wanted him gone too I recall) or whatever the case. It’s a bit of make believe. These guys who’ve been tainted and painted by hockey’s vanilla machine, (I had the brush) I can’t think of two people better to smash these concepts into oblivion than Willy Nylander and one Kyle Dubas.
Dubas is fully aware of the fallacies in hockey observation and more than that he’s aware of the impact the first draft choice of the Shanaplan can have on what Toronto is attempting to accomplish. He’s on record saying Willy is a part of this as long as he is here, to the end. Dubas knows all the nonsense I was talking about at the outset is entirely that, nonsense. He was probably late because it was one of his first scrums over here and he wasn’t cold, Willy can seem almost shy or something I’ve learned. And a 20 year old kid missed a back check in the AHL one time after FILLING THE GODDAM NET DOWN THERE can you even imagine.
The Leafs have a strong room and Willy is a part of the group. And look if turns out there was an unfixable problem or the relationship is broken we will know it in the end and he won’t be here. But there is nothing to say that other than our own conjecture and he isn’t here yet. Especially when you consider the words of his coach who you might think would be most upset. His choice of words are “good kid, good person” and “he loves it here and we love Willy”. Babcock is dying to have #29 back on his lineup card. And these are the words of a principled man. A man who speaks in truths. Alright, so if Dubas loves him, Babs wants him, and Willy’s heart belongs to the Leafs, then wtf is the problem here and why do we still not have a deal? I don’t have the answer, but permit me to try and come up with one.
We’ve beaten this to death so I’m not going blow by blow of the factors at play here. There’s great stories and links out there from all the best at what they do (like this from @billius27 https://medium.com/@billius77/projecting-the-leafs-2019-20-roster-12c6f16be8cd ). I’m not capable of breaking down the particulars as well as guys like Bill and what you’ll get at True Blue Leafs is support for those who can. What I’ll try and do is give it to you straight how I see it. Here goes.
We know this negotiation is as massive as it is complex, for everyone. Dubas/Willy oh yeah, obviously. But it trickles down to everyone. Highlighted by the Maple Leaf RFA’s coming up next season. Not only here in Toronto either, all around the NHL. Agents, managers, the NHLPA, everyone is watching this on the edge of their seat waiting for an outcome as it goes down to the wire. Cap structure is shifting from old to young as we pay for projection not your past. GM’s want the leverage back they once had. Agents know the money isn’t coming on the tail end anymore. The high profile game of chicken is on and the headlights are approaching. How, how could it possibly get to this point?
By now most of you reading know all about the contract structure in which the Maple Leafs will pay a premium this season on a 6 year deal, followed by a reduced cap hit in years 2-6 by as much as $300,000-$400,000. Was this the plan all along? To wait it out until now? Highly doubtful and the always reliable Bob McKenzie has said as much. Still, once the season began and no deal was struck it’s as pure and simple as it gets. Why wouldn’t you wait until now.
We’ve looked at it from every angle but the truth is Toronto has a date where they can make their best offer. That date hasn’t come yet but it’s upon us. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s factual and anyone the slightest bit versed in negotiation would agree. If I know this, and you know this, do you figure Lewis Gross knows this? Is it even possible they’ve ackowledged to each other, Dubas and Gross, that they both know this? I have no idea. Remember, we aren’t shoveling shit here and I’ve already stated it’s not likely this was part of a game plan. Yet there’s a number out there of 6.9×6 being discussed that would be more than palatable for Toronto, more digestible still considering the cap reduction. So let’s say a $6.6 million cap hit. The question then becomes well why isn’t it done? The offer apparently hasn’t officially been tabled yet. And why not? Because it will be, and what we will then learn is that this has all been part of, you guessed it, a process. A cruel, painful, and possibly fruitful process.
Ya know, I don’t think I’ve learned more about the game and how I see things as I have from William Nylander. I’m not talking about the game itself as much as I am about perceptions, tags, owning our bias. I truly mean this when I say Nylander has helped make me look at things differently. It could turn out I should’ve trusted my initial instincts or “first impression” and Willy can screw off down the road but I’m more than comfortable already knowing that I was wrong to judge him the way I did and it’s taken all my power not to fall for it again. He’s gonna be another star Leaf and just stop and think, some of us would’ve traded away this kid out of spite simply for being caught up in a high stakes negotiation where his closest actual value contract hasn’t even been tabled yet. How have we been trained? And if watching Willy the player has taught me a ton, why do I get the feeling it’s no comparison to what Kyle Dubas will teach me about how I should go about evaluating. If you want to go back to process, this has never had anything to do with the Fall of 2018. October, no. November, no. It has everything to do with the future.
The fans, you have had to suffer. The player, he has had to suffer. The team…well they aren’t suffering, lol. But it’s had to be a stressful and trying time for many staff and Nylander improves the group instantly and exponentially. Two months of anguish for 6 years of Nylander at a price everyone can stomach. Sign me up. There is still potential here for a massive win for all parties. Everyone.
Bill Nylander didn’t sign for 6×6 in October and I don’t blame him. He’s likely to add on an additional 5-6 million dollars to his deal. Big win for the player and agent. For those of you saying what’s the differnce between 35 million and 40 million? Well five million friggin dollars, that’s what. That’s another generation of family you can set up. Or it’s 20 Ferrari’s, idgaf. Take that $40 mill, cut it in half for tax. Pay your management team. Pay your agents. The list goes on but you are walking away with about 30% of your earnings. And you don’t know what tomorrow brings, this might be your last kick. Nevermind what the guys behind you are being projected to make. So you look after you, kid. If you’re pissed at him, I understand. But True Blue Leafs isn’t, I can tell you that.
As for Dubas and the Maple Leafs, if he holds his ground to the end, gets Nylander signed long term and doesn’t go above market, all the while using the Collective Bargaining Agreement and working it to the advantage of the player (who gets more cake) and the team (less hit), how could that be anything but a victory. It’s my belief that everyone involved has known the number this ends up at for quite some time. And please, please be 6.9. That just seems right for him.
In conclusion, “Will-he” sign a 6 year deal by Dec.1st? We know he can and we hope he will.