William Nylander's contract status, move to centre the focus as Leafs hit the ice
William Nylander was in the middle of it all.
The Maple Leafs forward received lots of attention — camera operators, photographers and reporters dissecting his every move — on the ice as he started what's expected to be a long audition at centre.
Nylander was again the focus at the conclusion of Toronto's first on-ice training camp sessions Thursday for a very different reason.
The skilled Swede, who can become an unrestricted free agent next July, has yet to sign an extension as he heads into the final season of his current deal.
Just don't expect him to discuss it publicly.
"I want to be here," Nylander said in the sunshine outside Toronto's practice facility. "But I'm going to let my agent and (Leafs general manager Brad Treliving) take care of that."
He then added politely: "I'm not going to answer any more questions about my contract."
But that won't stop it from being a talking point on the outside for a team without much salary cap space and the status of the NHL's spending threshold for 2024-25 and beyond unclear as the league finally emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic's crushing financial implications.
"I still have one more year left," Nylander said. "That's just how I'm thinking about it."
Nylander signed that six-year, US$45-million extension on Dec. 1, 2018, following a long impasse with former Toronto GM Kyle Dubas.
The deal turned out to be a bargain for the Leafs, who would go onto ink Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for significantly more money in the months that followed.
Previously set to also become a UFA next summer, Matthews signed a four-year, $53-million pact that ties him to the organization through 2027-28 on Aug. 23. Marner has two seasons left on his deal with an annual salary cap hit of just under $11 million.
Leafs captain John Tavares, also with two seasons left at $11 million, said earlier this week Nylander is "built" to play in Toronto thanks to his easygoing personality.
"Very nice comment," the No. 8 pick at the 2014 NHL draft said. "I've only known Toronto and this is the place I want to be."
The soft-spoken Nylander set career-highs for goals (40), assists (47) and points (87) in 2022-23 before adding 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the playoffs as the Leafs advanced in the post-season for the first time since 2004.
"You just gotta go out there and have fun every day," he added of living in city's media and fan fishbowl. "That's important."
Head coach Sheldon Keefe doesn't expect an uncertain future to faze the 27-year-old.
"Extremely confident in himself," Keefe said. "I would never describe Willie as distracted by anything.
"I'm not concerned about Willie being able to focus on what we need him to do on the ice."
And to start training camp, that's playing centre. Nylander spent the first day skating between Calle Jarnkrok and new addition Max Domi.
"Unbelievable player," Domi said. "Great kid, super humble and works really, really hard."
The overwhelming majority of Nylander's NHL career has been spent on the wing, but he was drafted as a centre and played the same position for Keefe in the AHL.
The plan is to give him time to grow into the role during camp and pre-season to lay a groundwork of fundamentals and systems, instead of the more challenging task of moving to the middle mid-schedule with reduced practice time.
"I'm excited," Nylander said. "I told Sheldon wherever he wants me to play, I'll play."
Keefe, who said Treliving's fresh perspective after taking over from Dubas in May played into the shift, and Nylander have been with the organization for the better part of a decade.
They've experienced highs and lows together, but the coach's belief in the player's ability to push even further — despite some tough conversations through the years — remains firm.
"Willie can do whatever he puts his mind to," Keefe said Wednesday. "He's that good. He's that powerful. He's that strong ... he wants to accomplish great things.
“There's common ground there where he wants to be great. I'm seeking help him to do that."
MATTHEWS ON THE KILL
The Leafs plan to audition Matthews on the penalty kill, which will see him join Marner as a top-line option when Toronto's down a skater.
And there are minutes available after the Leafs waved goodbye to forwards Alexander Kerfoot, Noel Acciari, Ryan O'Reilly and Zach Aston-Reese this off-season.
Keefe pointed out the team gave Matthews a look on the kill a couple seasons back, adding the No. 1 pick in 2016 is "willing and able" to do whatever's asked.
"It's not necessarily about whether he can do it," the coach explained. "It's about how it affects the team."
Killing penalties usually means missing the next shift.
"When you have one of the best 5-on-5 players in the league playing a little bit less, that's not always a good thing,” Keefe said. "What I would like to see is that our group develops as such that we do use Auston on the penalty kill, but depending on what's happening in the game."
The Leafs got their conditioning out of the way early with tough, 20-minute skating tests before heading to the locker room to regroup ahead of drills.
Keefe was impressed with the players' stamina and approach.
"It's built to be miserable ... and it is miserable," he said. "We like to lead with the hard things. Playing in the NHL, winning the NHL, is not an easy thing.
"It's a mental test more than anything."
Nylander was asked about the skate afterwards.
"It's not too bad,” he said, before catching himself and adding with a smile: "Well, it is annoying.
"Nice to have it over with."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
The Shopping Trends team is independent of the journalists at CTV News. We may earn a commission when you use our links to shop. Read about us.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Donald Trump said Sunday he has decided against testifying for a second time at his New York civil fraud trial, posting on social media that he "VERY SUCCESSFULLY & CONCLUSIVELY" testified last month and saw no need to appear again.
Buckingham Palace released an image of the Christmas card that King Charles III and Queen Camilla will be sending out this year.
A Catholic priest in a small Nebraska community died Sunday after being attacked in a church rectory, authorities said.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is working hard to use a global climate change conference as an opportunity to market the province’s non-renewable resources.
Climate advocate and former Vice President Al Gore on Sunday called into question the decision to hold the COP28 climate talks in the United Arab Emirates, a leading producer of the world’s oil.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says the delay in announcing details of his government’s proposed oil and gas sector emissions cap is due to its uniqueness and to wanting to get it right.
In a theatre in St. John's, N.L., a murmur spreads through the audience as people timidly raise their hands. They have been asked if they saw their own stories reflected in the film they just watched -- 'A Quiet Girl.'
It wasn't the most uplifting of inaugural addresses. Rather, Argentina's newly empowered President Javier Milei presented figures to lay bare the scope of the nation's economic 'emergency,' and sought to prepare the public for a shock adjustment with drastic public spending cuts.
Dozens of families in the West Island are demanding their money back because the man they paid to do their snow removal never showed up to clear their driveways after the first snowstorm of the season.
While Quebec Premier Francois Legault is calling for 'flexibility' on working conditions in the public sector, unions are denouncing the government's lack of urgency to reach an agreement.
Montreal, Laval and the South Shore can expect 10 – 20 millimetres of rain and about five centimetres of snow Sunday into Monday.
Via a video shared on social media, Norfolk County OPP have provided an update on their ongoing investigation into a hit-and-run that killed a 14-year-old boy.
St. Thomas police are investigating a break and enter and theft at a downtown business.
The London Jewish Community Foundation and Jewish London hosted a Hanukkah Party Sunday.
A pedestrian was struck by an ION train Sunday afternoon in downtown Kitchener.
The Christkindl Market has wrapped up another successful year in downtown Kitchener.
Police are investigating a shooting in a Kitchener neighbourhood that sent one person to hospital.
A driver is accused of travelling more than 70km/h over the speed limit on Highway 11 on Friday, provincial police say.
A 65-year-old driver from L'Île-Cadieux, Que. is facing multiple charges following an incident on Highway 11 Wednesday evening.
Ontario Provincial Police are asking for the public's help in locating a driver who is accused of driving away from the scene of a crash on the Queensway.
Photo radar cameras caught an average of 627 speeders a day on Ottawa roads in October, as the extra sets of eyes on the road continue to detect speeders in school zones and community safety zones.
Officials say work is ongoing to stabilize a Quebec dike that was showing signs of failing, forcing hundreds from their homes one week ago.
Sandwich Street between Ojibway Parkway and Chappell Avenue is now fully open to all traffic.
Windsor dad mourned after fatal crash, Chatham man sentenced to life in prison, and Windsor’s newest lotto winner: Top Windsor stories this week
Friends and family are mourning the loss of a 27-year-old Windsor man who died in a car accident on Dec. 2, A Chatham man has been sentenced to life in prison for the “horrific” murder of his girlfriend, and a Chatham woman said she was “stunned” to see she was the lucky winner of $100,000. Here’s a look at the top stories on ctvnewswindsor.ca this week.
The Municipality of Chatham Kent says contractors are expected to be on site in downtown Wheatley as the town moves forward with their plans for revitalization.
Provincial police in Orillia say three impaired drivers have been taken off the roads in less than 48 hours.
A local grassroots organization is calling for help as volunteers work to support the most vulnerable in Barrie ahead of Christmas.
The spirit of giving is in the air in Simcoe County, with bus drivers in Barrie now doing their part to give back to their community.
An early morning fire has shaken the homeless encampment at Grand Parade in downtown Halifax.
The Queens District RCMP has arrested a 20-year-old man after a fatal collision in P.E.I. left three people dead and three others seriously injured.
At the end of a long country driveway a new beginning awaits for 21 individuals who need a fresh start in life.
Okotoks RCMP are asking for public assistance identifying a suspect in relation to an armed robbery that took place at the Saskatoon Farm Saturday afternoon.
The Tsuut'ina Nation celebrated the unveiling of a new mural Saturday.
For some, it's just a hobby, popular in basements, but this weekend Calgary is showcasing the more competitive side of the sport of table tennis.
A newly-created non-profit group is attempting to give out three times more holiday hampers this year, as the high cost of living leaves many Manitobans struggling this holiday season.
A sporting event putting a twist on one of Manitoba's favourite games has returned for its second year, raising both money and awareness for a good cause.
With inflation still high and the cost of living skyrocketing, some vendors at craft and Christmas bazaars are struggling to market their markets. This is prompting many small businesses in Manitoba to make a plea to purchase locally.
Workers at the Hudson's Bay store at Aberdeen Mall in Kamloops, B.C., have walked off the job after their union and the company were unable to reach a wage agreement.
A former Nanaimo lawyer has been disbarred for sexual misconduct that occurred when he was practising in Abbotsford in 2018.
The Vancouver Canuck's 4-3 win on Saturday night is one step closer to “utopia,” according to head coach Rick Tocchet.
A pilot project dealing with problem properties in Edmonton has been made permanent due to its success.
No Canadians made it to the podium at Saturday night’s FIS World Cup Big Air Snowboard event at Commonwealth Stadium. But the night saw some snowboarding history being made.
Saturday, the woman's parents said their daughter's death was the result of "a complete mishandling of the tools available to law enforcement in the application of dealing with mental health issues."