Games like San Jose vs Toronto make the wait for the west coast starting time very worthwhile. A highly entertaining game (speed, skill, some actual hitting for once), and a nice win for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri and Kasperi Kapanen have really stepped up for Matthews and Nylander, respectively. Kapanen in particular has shown that he is a top 6 forward (which I always thought was his ceiling). Kadri is demonstrating that even when Matthews returns, Mike Babcock must find a way to ensure that Naz still gets a ton of ice time.
Kadri is one of the players who will be vital in a playoff series (esp against a team like Boston). He’s got the requisite toughness and courage to draw penalties (and, in a sign of increasing maturity, usually avoids silly retaliatory fouls). It was stupid of San Jose to target him last night. If last year’s game in Toronto was the ostensible reason for that, the only person who should have considered retaliation was Joe Thornton, (although after seeing Jumbo Joe nice and groomed last night, it appears that Kadri did him a favour when he yanked off a huge tuft of that ungodly scrub on his face).
As for Willie Ny, the Holdout Guy, I haven’t a clue as to what will happen, but I’m convinced that what I suggested in a previous post is the right way for the Leafs to go: get a young talented player, who is on the threshold of his potential, but is still entry level. NOT a defenceman (Travis Dermott is showing increasingly that he is more than capable of assuming “Big Three” minutes alongside Rielly and Gardiner, and there’s ample D-depth in the farm system).
If it finally becomes necessary to consider a deal, trading Nylander for someone like Jesperi Kotkaniemi in Montreal is an optimal trade target (would Bergevin do it?), or Timo Meier in San Jose (although I don’t think the Sharks could fit Nylander under their cap right now, so I doubt there’s an easy trade to be made there either).
Truth be told, Nylander should take his bridge contract. He might think it’s a bridge to nowhere, but he’s got zero leverage today other than withholding his services, which might mean playing in the KHL after December 1st, or watching his Leafs’ teammates on TV at home and eating lots of Swedish meatballs.
Another thought: after watching Erik Karlsson closely last night, I can’t help but I wonder if he’s past his best days. He’s playing on a surgically repaired ankle (half of the bone is gone) and there’s a lot of wear and tear on his body (Ottawa really overused him; I suppose they didn’t have a choice). Granted, in San Jose, he’s surrounded by other outstanding defencemen – Burns and Vlasic (personally, I think Vlasic is the best of the lot, although he gets the least amount of credit or publicity). Karlsson played reasonably well, but Ottawa might have sold high when they traded him. Is he really worth Drew Doughty type money? (Is Drew Doughty still worth Drew Doughty type money?)
The NHL has totally changed. If you’re the Leafs, you’ve got to maximise your chances of winning when your core is in their early 20s. 28 is becoming the new 32. That’s why you’re going to see more contract stand-offs like Nylander, as an increasing number of players and their agents come to recognize this fact. Their window for negotiating a big day is contracting as the league gets younger.
As this fact becomes more readily apparent to the NHL, I predict a negotiated change to the CBA. It will become more like the NBA. You’ll probably have 5 year entry deals for newcomers (as their increasing value is recognized by ownership) and then a straight move to unrestricted free agency as a quid pro quo. Plus contracts only lasting for 5 years (so the Leafs would do well to secure 8 year deals for both Matthews and Marner while they still can).
Speaking of Marner, I don’t see how long the Leafs can keep their core together with Mitch playing as well as he is. Matthews will get whatever he wants (he might get an offer sheet from Arizona as high as $14m a year, although his injury might be a blessing in disguise for Toronto in terms of keeping his number closer to McDavid-like territory). The really tough one to do will be the Marner contract. If I’m his agent, I’m using Patrick Kane as my comparable and starting the negotiations at $10.5m. And you know what? Marner is probably worth it.