Getty

Matthews return, Nylander deadline make Leafs team to watch

With a nice 17-8-0 record, it’s not as if the Toronto Maple Leafs are failing to deliver on the hype so far this season.

Even so, we haven’t really gotten a taste of what kind of juggernaut this team can truly be, but that could all change if the Maple Leafs finally resolve one lingering problem and see a superstar shake off lingering injuries.

Yes, it’s looking like an exciting week for the Maple Leafs. Here’s why just about any hockey fan should share that excitement, or at least a healthy dose of fascination.

Matthews makes a comeback

To start, it sounds like Toronto will get that aforementioned superstar back from injury on Wednesday, as Auston Matthews is slated to get back in the lineup as the Buds face the San Jose Sharks. Matthews last suited up on Oct. 27, yet his numbers still look pretty splendid, as he generated 10 goals and six assists for 16 points in just 11 games, and that last contest was abbreviated by his latest, unfortunate injury.

The Maple Leafs were 8-3-0 after winning that Oct. 27 game against Winnipeg. With John Tavares and Frederik Andersen putting together excellent work in Matthews’ absence, Toronto produced a solid 9-5-0 mark without the American center, thus leaving them at 17-8-0.

It’s not yet clear who Matthews will line up with tonight, although TSN’s Mark Masters notes that Matthews raved about his stretch playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen, explaining that “we all bring different things to the table, but I think all of us want to play fast.”

Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s even-strength listings, Matthews has clearly stuck with those two the most; amusingly, he’s been on the ice more often with Marleau (143:52) than his goalie Andersen (126:19).

Matthews said that it might take him time to get back up to speed, but then again …

Nylander deadline

We won’t have to wait much longer to find out what happens with William Nylander, whose contract-less situation has dragged on far longer than just about anyone expected.

While there’s the outside chance that things could be pushed to a February deadline noted by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub required), it’s tough to imagine Nylander’s holdout costing him the 2018-19 season outright. About a week ago, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that the two sides might hash out something along the lines of a six-year deal worth about $6.9 million per season, although there’s an indication that the sides are about $300K apart.

One way (a contract signing) or the other (trading Nylander’s rights to another team), it sure seems like we’ll get some closure by the Saturday (Dec. 1) deadline of 5 p.m. ET.

Let’s set contract rumblings – along with memories of Ryan Smyth crying in an airport because of a relatively small discrepancy – and ponder what the Maple Leafs would be getting if the two sides could hammer out an agreement.

Nylander, 22, has played two full seasons in the NHL, plus a 22-game run in 2015-16. He’s generated 20+ goals twice, and 61 points in each instance, giving him an impressive 135 points in 185 games. But how good is he, really?

If you spend any time on Hockey Twitter, you’ve probably seen people arguing about Nylander, whether the discussion turns to accusations of greed, being “carried” by Matthews, or – on the opposite end – bold proclamations regarding his greatness.

The deeper you dig, the better Nylander tends to look. The Athletic’s Ian Tulloch ($) noted back in October that Nylander’s per-minute numbers stack up really well against other notable players, including teammate Mitch Marner. Their work from 2017-18 seems quite comparable based on the wide array of metrics covered by Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, among others:

via Bill Comeau

Long bar graphs/story short, it can sometimes feel a little vague to deem Nylander a “top-six forward,” so maybe it would be best to describe as someone who could fit into plenty of top lines around the league, and prosper along the way?

Combining Matthews, Marner, and Nylander with Tavares won’t be cheap, something the Maple Leafs are making quite clear. It will likely be worth the headaches, though, because that’s a scary group.

There also might be a silver lining to this long, drawn-out process, beyond Toronto potentially making the money work.

Gains for the supporting cast

With Matthews and especially Nylander out, other players have been asked to step up.

The most tantalizing development probably comes in the strong year for Kasperi Kapanen. Would he have received so many opportunities with high-end linemates if Nylander was around since Game 1? Judging by past seasons, the answer sure feels like “No.”

Kapanen’s really run with the opportunity, displaying speed and skill while collecting 17 points in 25 games. His 18.9 shooting percentage indicates that he might slow down a bit, yet Kapanen’s likely earned serious trust with Mike Babcock and others.

The Nylanders and Matthews of the league drive your success, yet sometimes it’s the growth of a player who could thrive or decline (possibly Kapanen, definitely someone like Brayden Point or Jake Guentzel) who can really make the difference in finding something special.

***

No doubt about it, the Leafs aren’t out of the woods. They still need to settle Nylander’s situation, and more strained contract talks await with Matthews and Marner.

Like just about any team in the salary cap era, they also must play well enough to make up for certain flaws. Putting a talented group on the ice doesn’t guarantee a deep run, and expectations are likely to be extremely high in Toronto if the Maple Leafs do get Matthews healthy and Nylander signed.

Success would be awfully sweet if that does happen, as the Maple Leafs could conceivably be the most dazzling team we’ve seen in some time. After all, good things come to those who wait, right?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ryan Smyth keeping busy as camp approaches

1 Comment

Ryan Smyth is trying to keep his schedule busy and mind off hockey as NHL training camps fast approach.

Its Smyth’s first season away from the game after announcing his retirement last spring.

Speaking with Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, Smyth says he’s had numerous offers already to stay within the game.

“I have an open invitation on any front from Mac (Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish) but he recommended I take time off, and that’s what I’ll be doing. I will be coaching my son’s Initiation 3A team this winter, and my daughter wants to play, too. My son’s six years old. I’d like him to play novice, one level up, because he’s a pretty good skater, but we’ll see how it goes,” Smyth said. “I did get a couple of calls from Team Canada to help out, and I mentioned Mac. But I owe it to my wife and kids to take this year off.”

Smyth, who played 1270 games with the Oilers, Islanders, Avalanche and Kings, says he hasn’t got calls asking whether he’s reconsidered his decision to retire.

“I’m old and I’m washed up, I guess,” he joked.

Without a training camp to prepare for, Smyth is enjoying things he otherwise couldn’t do at this time of year. He has plans to see the Green Bay Packers play in Seattle and will head to New York where he’ll watch Derek Jeter’s final games.

After taking a year off, Smyth, who scored 386 goals and 842 points during his NHL career says he’s uncertain of what he’ll do.

“I don’t want to speculate … it’s been 19 years. Obviously, I want to stay in hockey somehow, but in what capacity? I have no idea,” he said.

PHT Morning Skate: Ducks reflect on Selanne

1 Comment

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Several members of the Anaheim Ducks talked about what Teemu Selanne has meant to them. The 43-year-old forward will hang up his skates once the Ducks’ playoff run concludes. (Ducks.nhl.com)

With the season over, Jaromir Jagr reiterated his desire to re-sign with the New Jersey Devils. That’s not surprising given his assessment of the season. (The Bergen Record)

Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy admitted that even he’s surprised that they captured the Central Division title. “To me, it’s the most surprising division championship that we have, I guess, in the Avalanche history.” (Denver Post)

Paul Maurice would like to stay on as the Winnipeg Jets’ coach, but he needs to talk it over with his family first. (Winnipeg Sun)

A look into the Red Wings culture that has led to 23 consecutive postseason appearances. (Detroit Free Press)

Being part of Ryan Smyth’s final game might inspire the young Edmonton Oilers. (Edmonton Sun)

Highlights from Detroit’s 3-0 victory over St. Louis:

Oilers shine in Ryan Smyth’s final game

14 Comments

Saturday’s 5-2 Edmonton Oilers win against the Vancouver Canucks meant little-to-nothing in the scheme of the 2013-14 season, but it meant a lot to plenty of Oilers fans. That’s because tonight served as the final game of Ryan Smyth’s career, as chronicled in a wide variety of ways.

Naturally, that included a tribute from the team before the big day:

A nod as captain with Andrew Ference on the shelf:

An emotional locker room speech:

A fantastic gesture from his final opponent and long-time divisional rivals:

A goofy-but-endearing political ode:

And yes, as more than a few people speculated, more than a few tears from the retiring 38-year-old:

source: AP
Credit: AP

You could argue that the only thing the night was lacking was an ugly Smyth goal in front of Vancouver’s net, yet another than that, it was pretty much a perfect send-off for a winger who squeezed every bit of production and fanfare one could expect from a limited set of skills.

After 19 seasons, Ryan Smyth calls it a career

13 Comments

One of the most beloved Oilers of all time is stepping away.

Ryan Smyth, who played the second-most games (970) in Edmonton franchise history, announced his retirement on Friday to an outpouring of emotion and admiration from his peers and former coaches.

“We would like to thank Ryan for being a great Oiler,” said general manager Craig MacTavish, per CBC. “Ryan and his family are ambassadors for both the Oilers and the city of Edmonton and we cannot thank them enough for their dedication. Ryan truly exemplifies what it means to be an Oiler and I am extremely proud to have had him as a key part of our hockey club for so many years.”

MacTavish wasn’t the only member of the Oilers’ organization to heap praise on Smyth.

Taken sixth overall by Edmonton at the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Smyth spent the first 12 years of his career in Edmonton and emerged as the face of the franchise, scoring 16 points in 24 games en route to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. He also provided an unforgettable moment in 2007, breaking down in tears upon being traded to the Islanders after failing to reach a new contract agreement in Edmonton:

Smyth returned to Edmonton via trade from Los Angeles in 2011, and would go on to tie Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson for the most power-play goals in franchise history.

“I have been truly blessed to play this game for as long as I have and will cherish the memories forever,” Smyth said. “After some difficult discussions over the past week, I felt it was best to make this decision and move on with life after hockey and enjoy every minute I have with my family.”