Monday, December 3, 2018

Weekend power rankings: Nylander and Wilson both come in late and maybe a little high

Well,​ you have to​ give​ William​ Nylander​ and​ Kyle​ Dubas some​ credit. They know​ how to build​ to​ a dramatic finish.

The weekend’s​​ biggest story came off the ice, as contract negotiations between the Maple Leafs and their talented young winger went down to the wire. With Saturday’s 5:00 p.m. ET deadline looming, we made it well into the afternoon without any kind of indication of where things were headed. As the timer ticked down and it became clear that there wouldn’t be a trade, it started to look like we could actually see the deadline come and go without any kind of deal in place.

And then, with just minutes to go, the word came down: They had a deal.

The details, in case you missed them: Nylander gets a six-year deal that will pay him just under $42-million, and carries a cap hit north of $10-million for this season, before settling in at $6.9-million the rest of the way. He’s expected to play this week, either tomorrow in Buffalo or on Thursday against Detroit.

Let’s make a few observations here, starting with an obvious one: If this really went down the way it’s been described, and the two sides didn’t actually strike a deal until there were just minutes left before the deadline, that is insane. Like, it’s completely nuts.

Maybe we’re just seeing a little dramatic license come into play here. But according to reports, there was no deal until Nylander himself called Dubas just 30 minutes before the deadline, and the actual contract wasn’t signed until there were just eight minutes to spare. If that’s true, or even all that close, it means that what could turn out to be a career-defining decision for both the player and the GM came down to the same sort of last-minute scramble as your high-school history essays. It’s madness.

In the bigger picture, the deal seems to work well enough for both sides. Nylander ultimately got what he was looking for – maybe not the Leon Draisaitl money he was rumored to be using as a starting point, but something north of what David Pastrnak accepted a year ago. That comparison always rankled some fans, since Pastrnak is the better player. But in hindsight he signed for less than he deserved and that’s hardly Nylander’s fault. The young Leaf played hardball, even insisting that his deal contain enough bonuses to make him whole for the time he missed. And in the end, he got just about exactly what he wanted.

As for Dubas and the Leafs, they weren’t able to push Nylander down to the number they were hoping for, and if you insist on a narrative of either side blinking, then that’s the Maple Leafs. But in terms of the long-term cap hit – this year really doesn’t matter – Dubas kept the number under $7-million, if only barely.

Is that too much? It might be. But it’s not, despite the way some are trying to spin it, the sort of deal that forces a GM to break up a team. The Leafs are probably paying Nylander about a half-million more a year than they’d like to. That’s not ideal and a hard cap means you need to squeeze value wherever you can. But it’s the sort of problem that eventually forces you into a move on your fourth line or bottom pair, not with your stars. The Leafs have said all along that they can keep their big four forwards and nothing that happened with Nylander should force them to change that approach.

James Mirtle breaks down the impact in more detail right here. But the big winner here is all of us, who can finally move on to another story. If you’re a Leafs fan, the Nylander drama was looming over everything that the team was doing on the ice. If you’re not, you’re probably wondering how a 60-point winger managed to take over the NHL’s news cycle. Either way, we’re done, and we can all move on to something more important. Like obsessing over contracts for Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews for most of the next year.

I’m kidding. Kind of.

In what can only be described as an inexcusable decision, the NHL still went ahead and played some actual games on the weekend, even as everyone in the hockey world was 100 percent focused on the Nylander drama. Some of those games even shifted our weekly power rankings around. We’ll get to that in a bit. But first, hey, speaking of Cap hits that might be too high …

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Tom Wilson was at it again on the weekend. The Capitals winger, fresh off a 14-game suspension for throwing a dumb hit, figured it was time to get back to throwing dumb hits.

Wilson’s hit on Brett Seney resulted in a match penalty, but no further discipline. It wasn’t a hit to head, despite the call on the ice. But it was late and it was from behind on a vulnerable player. As far as suspensions go, it was borderline.

That put the Department of Player Safety in a tough spot. A player’s history comes into play for discipline decisions, but only in the “how many games” phase. In theory, at least, a player’s reputation has nothing to do with whether a hit is suspension-worthy or not. The DoPS basically had two choices: Decide that the hit didn’t rise to the level of a suspension and give Wilson nothing, or decide that it did and then, given his record, sit him down for a long time.

In the end, they decided to go with the former. It may have been the right call; had any player other than Wilson thrown the same hit, maybe most people just shrug it off. The hit wasn’t clean – you’re not allowed to skate through the back of a player who doesn’t have the puck, and never have been – but there’s still such a thing as bad hits that don’t merit suspensions. The DoPS felt that Wilson’s hit was one of them.

But even if the hit wasn’t worth another 20 games, it was dumb. It was unnecessary. Wilson wasn’t breaking up a play or creating a chance or doing anything to help his team. He just saw a guy he could paste and he couldn’t help himself. Or maybe he could – viewed generously, he seems to reconsider at the last second and try to bail on the hit, but it’s too late. Either way, Wilson isn’t even picking his spots. He took his massive suspension for a hit in a meaningless preseason game and now this. The problem is that there just doesn’t seem to be an off switch. He just hits whoever he can, however he can and then apologizes later if he needs to.

It increasingly feels like this can only end one of two ways. Either very, very badly, with somebody getting seriously hurt and Wilson sitting out most of a season. Or with Wilson changing his game so radically that he’s not Tom Wilson anymore. The ideal situation – the one where he still gets to be the dominant physical force the Capitals paid $31-million for but doesn’t throw dumb hits that hurt his team and risk massive suspensions for no benefit – just doesn’t seem to be an option for this guy.

5. Washington Capitals (15-8-3, +12 true goals differential*) – In related news, the defending champs are back in the top five, despite yesterday’s collapse against the Ducks that snapped a seven-game win streak. And yes, Wilson is part of that, because when he’s in the lineup he helps them win.

You could say that the Capitals are running over everyone, but I’ve been assured that it’s more like they’re just gliding around innocently and everyone else keeps backing into them.

4. Colorado Avalanche (15-6-5, +25) – I’ve never fully bought into the Avalanche. I still don’t, if I’m being honest. But at some point the results have to count for more than the gut instinct or whatever else and the Avs are at that point. They haven’t lost in regulation since Nov. 9 and have passed the Jets and Wild in the Central, with the Predators in sight. They’ve earned a spot.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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