William Nylander's contract impasse has finally come to an end.
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The restricted free agent signed a six-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, just before the 5 p.m. ET deadline to be eligible to play this season. The Leafs announced that the terms will pay Nylander an average of $ 6.9 million US per year from the second to sixth years and $ 10.2 million for 2018-19.
The agreement brings an end to nearly five months of negotiations between first-year general manager Kyle Dubas and Nylander's representatives, agent Lewis Gross and his father Michael, who played for seven NHL teams and was traded five times in his career.
"I'm happy for our team. I'm happy for William," Dubas said before the team's game in Minnesota against the Wild on Saturday. "I wish that we were able to get this done before training camp and he was able to be a part of this.
"I think the team's record right now is a testament to the coaching staff and to the players in the group, especially that they haven't really allowed this to become a distraction … They've had a great start to the season and I've learned a lot about the coaches and the players and their ability to [stay focused]. I'm very thankful for them that they were able to perform the way they had. I'm excited now to add William to the group. He's going to make us better."
Dubas said he hoped Nylander would return to the lineup "in the next week or so."
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As the Nylander signing deadline approached, it's believed the Maple Leafs were willing to let it pass rather than meet the player's reported demand of a long-term deal with an annual average value in the $ 8 million range.
Dubas, whose offer was said to be around $ 6 million, seemed to have the leverage in talks, given the team's impressive 18-8-0 record this season and the emergence of 22-year-old winger Kasperi Kapanen, the former fourth-liner who replaced Nylander on the right side on a line with Auston Matthews earlier this season.
"I think at the end it becomes a little bit frantic when you go right down to the deadline at the very end and you're trying to make sure everything gets in," Dubas said. "The worst-case scenario would have been a technical glitch that prevented this in going past the 5 o'clock deadline. No real emotion. Just stuck to our process and worked together with [Nylander's agent] Lewis Gross and William to complete it just under the wire."
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Nylander's arrival after sitting out 26 games may or may not mean the end of Kapanen's time skating alongside Matthews, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday after sitting over a month with an injured left shoulder. Kapanen and Nylander have been best friends and roommates since joining the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, during the 2015-16 season.
"Everyone wants Willie to be here," Kapanen told reporters in October. "He's a big part of the team. He brings a lot of energy and a lot of offence to our team."
Dubas stated weeks ago he wasn't worried about getting Nylander signed and insisted he wasn't shopping the talented Swede to any of the league's other 30 teams. However, he did have assistant GMs Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman in tow during the team's recent road trip through Raleigh, N.C., where the Hurricanes had been linked to Nylander trade rumours.
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Kadri, who has scored 32 goals in each of the last two seasons, had to wait until the eve of training camp in September 2013 before signing his two-year, $ 5.8 million bridge deal on the heels of an 18-goal, 44-point performance in the lockout-shortened campaign.
"It's a little bit stressful," Kadri, who inked a six-year, $ 27-million extension in April 2016, told Sportsnet in September. "It's not the easiest thing to go through. [Nylander] is a great player, he's a great teammate and we love to have him around."
Nylander has 48 goals and 135 points in 185 NHL regular-season games. During the stalemate, his on-ice contributions were often compared to Winnipeg's Nik Ehlers ($ 6 million AAV) and fellow forward David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins ($ 6.7 million).
Ehlers scored 60 points in his age-21 season and signed for seven years and $ 42 million while Pastrnak, who played with Nylander as teenagers in Sweden, recorded 80 points at 21.
In early October, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said the team's young players should consider accepting less money to provide the best chance for the franchise to win its first Stanley Cup since 1967.
Matthews and Marner are pending RFAs but Dubas has made it clear they, along with Nylander, would spend the prime years of their NHL career in Toronto, no matter the term of their contracts.
Many expect Matthews to command a salary similar to Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid's $ 12.5 million AAV while Marner, the Leafs' top point-getter this season with 36 in 26 games, may ask for something in the range of Jack Eichel's $ 10 million AAV as the Sabres standout has 32 points in 27 contests.