TORONTO – The newest member of the Toronto Maple Leafs was at a birthday party for his grandfather when the phone calls started.
Niklas Hagman was experiencing free agency for the first time and wasn’t sure how quickly his agent Don Baizley would start hearing from interested NHL teams. It turns out that it wasn’t very long so he had go somewhere quieter while his grandfather Nils celebrated his 84th birthday.
“Pretty much the whole family was there,” Hagman said on a conference call Wednesday from Finland. “When the phone started to ring a bit more I had to leave.”
The 28-year-old had known since the end of the season that he would be heading to a new team because the Dallas Stars told him they were going in another direction.
Three or four NHL clubs expressed immediate interest. Hagman got a good feeling after speaking with Leafs coach Ron Wilson and GM Cliff Fletcher about the team and wasn’t scared off by the fact Toronto is rebuilding.
“They gave the impression that they really wanted me,” said Hagman. “I really wanted to go somewhere that the team really we wanted me.
“I believe that good things will come. I believe I can be a big part of it.”
Before agreeing to his US$12-million, four-year deal on Tuesday night, Hagman placed a call to Leafs starting goalie Vesa Toskala.
The two players know one another from past experiences with the Finnish national team and Toskala sold Hagman on how nice the city is and how much he likes Wilson, who took over from Paul Maurice last month.
“He had only good things to say about the place,” said Hagman. “For me, knowing him and what he said, (it) made me more certain.”
The Leafs are hoping that Hagman can give them a season like the one he just had. The six-year NHL veteran had a career-best 27 goals and 41 points while playing all 82 games for Dallas.
He was also a useful penalty killer and should see some power-play time with the Maple Leafs.
“We look forward to him bringing his speed, grit and scoring touch to our lineup,” Fletcher said after announcing his signing.
Hagman was a third-round draft pick by Florida in 1999 and had never scored more than 10 goals in a season until getting 17 for Dallas two years ago.
He got even more ice time last season and bumped that total to 27, which included eight game-winners and four short-handed markers. Hagman hopes to keep improving on that mark.
“I believe that I bring a lot more to the ice than just the goals but hopefully I’ll try to score the goals next year too,” said Hagman.
At the very least, he has good bloodlines.
His father Matti was a legendary player in the Finnish league and became the first from that country to play in the NHL when he joined the Boston Bruins in 1976-77.
Hagman also has an aunt who was the European champion in the 400-metre dash and other relatives who have played on the national soccer team.
“In our family we’ve got a lot,” said Hagman, who is married to model Piritta Hannula.
When Hagman attends a family birthday like he did on Tuesday, he’s not even the most famous person in the room.
That title probably belongs to his father Matti, who was the longtime leading scorer in all of Finnish hockey.
“He’s kind of the Wayne Gretzky of the Finnish league,” said the younger Hagman.