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NHL’s not-so-simple signings

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist NHL Noise The Toronto Maple Leafs made news this week when they signed forward William Nylander to a gigantic contract extension. Last Monday, January 8, the pending unrestricted free agent agreed to an eight-year extension worth $92 million. That’s an annual average value of $11.5 million. If there was ever a point when the Leafs were considering moving on from Nylander, he has spent the first half of this season giving them a lot of reasons to think twice. Nylander is on pace for a career year that lands him in the neighbourhood of 50 goals and 120 points. With the deal, there are four forwards in Toronto — the Core Four, as they are known by pundits, or the Core Fore if you’re a Habs fan — who have eight-figure salaries. When Nylander’s contract kicks in next season, the combined cap hit for Matthews, Marner, Tavares and Nylander will be more than $46 million. Critics of the deal are concerned the cap isn’t rising fast enough to make those calculations look smart, especially when you consider that Mitch Marner will be due a new deal after next season. The deal raises questions about the future of John Tavares in Toronto whose contract also expires at the end of next season. If they let Tavares walk, they will need to fill the second-line centreman role, and if want to keep him he will surely have to agree to a pay cut. But that decision is a year away. Fan reactions are mixed, but the reality that GM Brad Treliving had to face was that Nylander had earned the contract. Beyond his career year, he’s been Toronto’s most reliable player in the postseason. They simply could not let him walk for nothing in the offseason, and winning any trade for him mid-season was an uphill battle. Nylander would have to be willing to sign long-term with a new team to fetch the assets he would be worth. Now the challenge for the Leafs is how they will ice a competitive team, filling the rest of the roster with quality players from the cap space that remains beyond the Core Four. Of course, another challenge awaits them before they consider the ramifications of the Nylander deal. The trade deadline is approaching, the Leafs have holes to fill if they want to go deep in the playoffs, and they’re currently looking for change in the couch cushions. The Nylander contract could only steal the spotlight for a brief time before another major deal involving two coveted young players stole the Leafs thunder. Late Monday, news broke that the Philadelphia Flyers had traded the rights to forward prospect Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick. Gauthier was selected by the Flyers at fifth overall in the 2022 draft, but the team had not come to terms with the young player who just shone for the United States at the World Juniors Hockey Championship. Gauthier is currently in his second season at Boston College and is expected to turn pro at the end of his college season. The Ducks drafted Drysdale with the sixth overall pick at the 2020 draft. He is playing in his third NHL season but had only played in 123 games at the time of the trade. Injuries have hampered Drysdale’s young career, but that was not enough to dissuade the Flyers from pursuing him. The deal was mired in controversy. Gauthier was reportedly refusing to sign in Philadephia, and the details of that strong position were still unclear at press deadline. In many ways, Gauthier held all the power. He could simply play his entire college career and then walk to free agency, capitalizing on a small loophole in the draft process that favours those who take the college path. The more it became known that he would never sign in Philly, the more his trade value would tank. The Flyers chose to act quickly. In the absence of a good explanation for why Gauthier was refusing to play in Philadelphia, speculation will be rampant. There is a little poetic justice in the fact that the team that benefited from Eric Lindros’ refusal to sign in Quebec more than three decades ago had their own prospect refuse to sign. Drysdale played his first game for the Flyers on Wednesday night with the Montreal Canadiens in town. He had one assist in a 3-2 Flyers win. Earlier in the day the Habs had lost one of their depth defensemen to waivers. Gustav Lindstrom, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings this past summer in the Jeff Petry deal, had been doing time in Montreal’s press box. But with some players returning from injured reserve, the Canadiens needed to open a roster space. No doubt the Habs were hoping Lindstrom would clear and report to Laval, but he was claimed by the Anaheim Ducks, who had just dealt Drysdale to Philadelphia. As teams are preparing for playoffs, Mr. Playoffs is ready to return to action. Corey Perry, who had been away from the game participating in the NHLPA player’s assistance program, met with Gary Bettman this past week at the player’s request. Perry’s contract had been terminated by the Chicago Blackhawks earlier in the season following an incident that led to Perry entering the program. Now he is a free agent ready to join a playoff contender. Several teams are reportedly interested in Perry’s services, including the Toronto Maple Leafs. The wily veteran is not likely to be a free agent for long. Raptors Racket The newest Toronto Raptors are settling in. RJ Barrett achieved his season high in scoring this past week, scoring 37 points in a Raptors win over the Golden State Warriors. Head Coach Darko Rajakovic gained some fans following Tuesday night’s 132-131 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Raptors had played well but found themselves playing against both the Lakers and the referees. In the fourth quarter alone, the Lakers were awarded 23 free throws as compared to two for the Raptors. In the post-game presser, the coach launched into an epic rant. “That’s outgrageous. What happened tonight is completely B.S. This is shame. Shame for the referees, shame for the league to allow this. Twenty-three free throws for them, and we get two free throws in the fourth quarter. They had to win tonight? If that’s the case, just let us know so we don’t show up for the game. Just give them a win. But that was not fair tonight.”On Thursday, Rajakovic was fined $25,000 by the NBA for his criticism of the referees. In the meantime, trade rumours are swirling with regards to Pascal Siakam. The pending unrestricted free agent will be very expensive to re-sign and would fetch a hefty return on the trade market. The NBA trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 8th, and by close Siakam mayhave found a new home.

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