This week is all about returns! A few Toronto Maple Leafs are on their way to joining the lineup if they haven’t already. And Erik Karlsson made his first trip to Ottawa as a player on the opposing team.
1. The Nylander Saga EndsWilliam Nylander is now a very rich man. The Toronto Maple Leafs finally ponied up enough money to lock him down for another six years. He will earn $41.4 million over that span, with about $25 million in guaranteed money. Nylander signed his new contract and ended his holdout, minutes before the reporting deadline. If he had not, he would not have been eligible to play at all this year. This is big for the Leafs, as they have a lot of talent under contract over the next few years, including players like John Tavares, Nazem Kadri, and Morgan Rielly. Not to mention the Brinks truck that will untroubledly roll up to the home of Auston Matthews very soon.
This contract does do one thing. It gives the Leafs less room for flexibility in signing and extending other players. Mitch Marner is also an RFA, like Matthews, and this summer the Leafs will want to make sure they sign him to an extension too. The Nylander deal will definitely have an effect on Marner’s contract because Matthews is obviously their top priority. So, if Nylander’s play declines at all, the Leafs will have a difficult time moving his contact which could make it difficult to contend through the prime of their two star player’s careers.
2. The Return of Auston MatthewsNot only will the Leafs be getting Nylander back in the lineup soon, they also got superstar Auston Matthews back from injury over the weekend. Matthews missed 14 games after suffering a shoulder injury against the Winnipeg Jets on October 27. He picked up right where he left and has scored three goals and notched two assists in his first two games back. Matthews has 20 points this year and has scored a goal per game with 13 goals in as many contests. If Matthews can stay healthy the rest of the year and play the way he has, the Leafs can be one of the scariest teams in the NHL and are serious Cup contenders. Mark my words.
3. The Return of Erik KarlssonEnough of all this talk of Toronto because there was another major return this weekend. Erik Karlsson returned to Ottawa for the first time since being traded from the Senators over the summer. Karlsson and the Sens gave up trying to reach an extension before the beginning of this season, partially due to of the Senators starting a rebuild and unstable ownership. Karlsson has maintained his love for the city in a way that many athletes don’t after leaving via free agency or being traded. His love for the city didn’t matter as the Sharks lost 6-2 and Karlsson was held without a point.
As I have said before, I love seeing athletes get a warm welcome from their old team. Especially a player like Karlsson that did everything right and played his ass off his entire career there. It was also refreshing to see the fans understand the reasons for the player leaving and to not give them a hard time, considering Karlsson had the option to stay. This is one of the best scenarios of a former player receiving a warm welcome by his old team and city.
4. Jeff Skinner the Superstar?Jeff Skinner has been a solid NHL player for years now. He broke onto the scene scoring 31 goals and 32 assists in his rookie year with the Hurricanes during the 2010-11 season and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. His career has been up and down since then, scoring as high as 63 points (37 goals, 26 assists) during the 2016-17 season and as low as 31 points (18 goals, 13 points) during the 2014-15 season (not including the lockout-shortened season). There was no question that Skinner had talent, but what type of player he was going to be. It seemed like he was heading down the path of a second-line solid goal-scorer and nothing more.
This season has changed everything. With one year remaining on his contract, the Hurricanes traded him to Buffalo over the summer. The Sabres knew what they were doing and Skinner has been the most impressive player on their team thus far and is a major reason why Buffalo has been one of the best teams in the league. Skinner has scored 20 goals and eight assists this season and is on pace to score 61 goals! He could very well win the Rocket Richard trophy and land himself a nice payday in the offseason.
Regardless of how Skinner’s career goes from here, he will always be able to remember the magic of this season. I’m interested to see if he can continue developing from here and transform himself into a legitimate star in the NHL. Personally, I’m skeptical that he will play like this each year. Although, I do think he will be a bit better than the second line goal-scorer I thought he had topped out as.
5. The NHL’s 32nd Team
As I wrote a few months ago, there is a TON of momentum for Seattle to become the next North American city with an NHL team. I won’t go over all the reasons why Seattle is the best possible choice, as what I said in my past article still rings true today. However, the NHL’s Board of Governors will be voting this week to formally approve Seattle’s bid to become the NHL’s next team. 75% of the Board of Governors must vote to approve for the bid to be successful. It seems almost like a formality at this point that the bid will go through. I for one am stoked at the idea of hockey in the Pacific Northwest. Mostly because I like seeing the different reasons that sports team succeed in non-traditional markets (see Vegas and Tampa Bay). Fingers crossed that the bid goes through! ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.