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What now for Nylander? A look at what came next for other notable RFA holdouts

William Nylander got his money and the Maple Leafs got their man. But what happens now? Will Nylander be in Toronto for the long haul or will he be trade fodder in the future?

William Nylander will be back with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. When exactly that is, of course, is probably up in the air. It might take a few days for everything to get sorted and Nylander to get into the Toronto lineup. But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t really matter. The important part — actually signing the 22-year-old, and getting it done before the collective bargaining agreement-imposed Dec. 1 deadline for restricted free agents — has been completed, even if it did come mere minutes before Nylander’s holdout reached the point of becoming a lost season.

As colleague Ken Campbell wrote Saturday, the six-year, $45-million contract was well worth the wait for Nylander, and in holding out for more than a quarter of the campaign, it’s safe to say he got what he was after. He’ll earn upwards of $10-million in signing bonuses over the next two seasons and will take home upwards of $24-million total in signing bonuses over the lifetime of the contract. His cap hit, a hair over $6.9-million per season, is commensurate with other top wingers, too, and it’s a price befitting a two-time 20-goal scorer who has consecutive 61-point seasons under his belt.

And with the deal signed, the real question isn’t about whether Nylander will live up to the deal. It would seem, if anything, that he’ll prove he was worth even more in the long run, particularly if he helps propel the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup victory. Rather, the most pressing question when it comes to Nylander’s six-year pact with Toronto is what it means for the future.

Unfortunately, as no one under the employ of The Hockey News possesses the powers of Miss Cleo, we can’t say with any certainty where things head for the Maple Leafs and Nylander. Maybe the holdout works out in the long run for both sides and they stay wed for the next several seasons. Maybe the cap crunch comes at Toronto in full force and Nylander becomes the odd-man out. Or maybe in order to add to the roster, the Maple Leafs simply decide Nylander has to be sacrificed at some point. We can’t say for certain.

What we can do, however, is look at the history of other holdouts, which presents a mixed bag of players who have been dealt quickly, traded down the road or stuck around for the long haul with the club they once battled in a contract dispute. Here’s a look at other notable holdouts and what happened in the aftermath of the deals:

Ilya Kovalchuk — Atlanta Thrashers — 2005-06
Holdout is probably a considerable overstatement, particularly in comparison to the saga in which the Maple Leafs and Nylander were embroiled. Coming off of three tremendous campaigns, a span over which he had 108 goals and 205 points in 227 games, Kovalchuk was looking for a sizeable raise on his second contract. There was nothing worked out by the time the campaign began, however, and Kovalchuk wound up sitting on the sidelines for the first three games of the season before putting pen to paper on a five-year, $32-million deal.

Outcome: Traded. Kovalchuk was tremendous over the remainder of the contract and remains the franchise leader in goals and points. But as the five-year pact came up, so did Kovalchuk’s time with the franchise. He was moved to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline in 2009-10 and subsequently signed to a 15-year contract. We all know how that turned out. 

Kyle Turris — Phoenix Coyotes — 2011-12
Turris’ holdout is one of the most notable on this list, and formerly the longest RFA holdout in the modern era before Nylander came along. Turris had only been moderately successful in the NHL at the time he went looking for his payday — 19 goals and 46 points in 131 games — but he knew the only way to get what he felt just was to exercise his right to sit out. So, thats what he did…for nearly two months. He didn’t sign a two-year, $2.8-million bridge deal until the day before the Coyotes’ 20th game of the season.

Outcome: Traded. The holdout seemed to irreversibly damage the relationship between team and player, and despite signing with the Coyotes, it took Phoenix management less than a month to decide it was time to move on. He returned to the lineup on Dec. 1 and was a member of the Ottawa Senators by Dec. 20.

P.K. Subban — Montreal Canadiens — 2012-13
A sixth-place finish in Calder Trophy voting in his first season and a spot on the Canadiens’ top pairing in his second, Subban wasted no time becoming a fan favorite and an integral part of Montreal’s core. His 21 goals and 74 points in 158 games were proof he could be a sizeable offensive force, as well. Subban wanted to be paid as a top rearguard, but the Canadiens wanted to take the wait-and-see approach. After a brief holdout — he missed six games — Subban returned on a two-year, $5.75-million bridge deal.

Outcome: Traded. Subban went out and got his money. Despite missing six games in a lockout-shortened season, he posted 11 goals and 38 points in 42 games, winning the Norris Trophy. The next season, he set a career-high with 53 points, and that led to his gargantuan eight-year, $72-million contract. Subban only played two seasons in Montreal on that contract, though, being shipped off to the Nashville Predators in a blockbuster deal ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.

Ryan O’Reilly — Colorado Avalanche — 2012-13
O’Reilly had a sneaky-good start to his career in Colorado, wrapping up his entry-level pact with an 18-goal, 55-point season in which he garnered some attention for the Selke Trophy as the Avalanche’s first-line center. But O’Reilly became a household name as the negotiation for his second contract became one of the more contentious in recent memory. He sat out nearly half of the lockout-shortened season, signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames and only returned to Colorado after they matched the offer — two years, $10-million.

Outcome: Traded. O’Reilly was a good hand for the Avalanche over the next two seasons, putting up an impressive 34 goals and 84 points in 109 games and inking a subsequent two-year, $12-million. But as he headed into the final year of that second two-year pact, the Avalanche dumped O’Reilly in a deal with the Buffalo Sabres, where he signed an at-the-time uniquely bonus-heavy contract. O’Reilly and his contract have since been moved along to the St. Louis Blues.

Jamie Benn — Dallas Stars — 2012-13
It’s difficult to remember a time when Benn and the Stars were anything but a match made in hockey heaven, but he certainly had a case to be paid like a superstar out of his entry-level contract and Dallas wasn’t so sold on the idea. From 2009-10 to 2011-12, Benn posted 70 goals and 160 points in 222 games, even garnering some low-level Hart Trophy support in his third season. Unable to come to a deal before the lockout-shortened season began, though, Benn sat out a handful of games before signing a five-year, $26.25-million deal.

Outcome: With team. So, that worked out. Across the five campaigns of Benn’s not-so-bridge deal, he was one of the league’s top scorers, an Art Ross Trophy winner and nearly a point per game player scoring 148 goals and 357 points in 363 games. As his five-year pact came up, the Stars and Benn wasted not a minute putting pen to paper on a massive eight-year, $76-million extension, which comes complete with a no-movement clause. Whatever differences the two sides had back in 2012-13 have long been forgotten.

Rickard Rakell — Anaheim Ducks — 2016-17
Another instance where declaring it a holdout doesn’t quite feel right, but it technically fits the bill. The Ducks started the 2016-17 campaign without Rakell’s services as the Swedish scorer sought payment on the heels of a 20-goal, 43-point season, and he wound up sitting out the first game of the campaign without a contract. The two sides agreed to a six-year, $22.8-million deal the day after Anaheim’s first game of the season. However, a visa issue and an injury ended up costing Rakell the entire first month of the season.

Outcome: With team. Rakell seems a lock to be a big piece of whatever the future holds in Anaheim, and it’s safe to say that the deal has worked out well for the Ducks. Coming out of his miniature holdout, Rakell cracked the 30-goal plateau for the first time and followed it up with a 34-goal season in 2017-18. He’s had a slow start — four goals in 28 games — this season, but he’s a true top-line scorer.

Hampus Lindholm — Anaheim Ducks — 2016-17
Rakell wasn’t the only holdout with which the Ducks had to deal in 2016-17. Lindholm, too, wanted to see his salary significantly increase, and he had a point. He was a top-pairing rearguard who garnered some outside attention for the Norris Trophy by the end of his entry-level deal, the kind of defenseman that a blueline is built around. The two sides went back and forth without any deal in place by the team the season began, however, and Lindholm wound up sitting out the first nine games of the season without a contract. When his camp and Anaheim finally came to an agreement, it was on a six-year, $31.5-million deal. However, despite the signing date, Oct. 27, Lindholm didn’t actually get into a game until Nov. 9.

Outcome: With team. Lindholm has become essential to the Ducks’ success, and when it came time to make a decision about which rearguard would be the centerpiece in Anaheim, the Ducks chose Lindholm over the slightly older Sami Vatanen. Lindholm has the feeling of a lifer in Anaheim, and it would be no surprise if he were to stick with the team for the duration of his career.

Andreas Athanasiou — Detroit Red Wings — 2017-18
Athanasiou was sparingly used in Detroit during his first two big-league seasons, skating an average of 11:50 per game, but, boy, did he make those minutes count. In 101 games, he scored 27 goals and 43 points, and his blazing speed and knack for the net made him the kind of high-potential player that the Red Wings could utilize in the middle of the lineup. Athanasiou wanted to be paid as such, though, and Detroit wasn’t willing to break the bank to bring him back, so the two sides became embroiled in a contract dispute that saw reports of the winger contemplating a season spent overseas. Eventually, after Athanasiou sat out nine games, he signed a one-year contract worth $1.39 million to return to the Red Wings.

Outcome: With team. At times, it seemed a fait accompli that Athanasiou would be dealt. Turns out that the holdout might have been the best thing for both sides. Athanasiou ironed out his place in the lineup and the Red Wings were able to really determine his value, signing the winger to a two-year, $6-million extension just days after his one-year pact expired. He’s scored 27 goals and 49 points in 93 games since his holdout.

Jacob Trouba — Winnipeg Jets — 2016-17
Becoming one of the best young defensemen in the league meant Trouba had set himself up for a payday commensurate with other top rearguards. Or so Trouba felt. The Jets, however, felt differently, unwilling to bend to Trouba’s salary demands and desiring instead to get him tied into something shorter term that would allow more financial flexibility. It was a negotiation that dragged on into November and didn’t come to an end until after the Jets’ 13th game when he signed a two-year, $6-million pact.

Outcome: With team, but… There’s a lot to talk about with Trouba. He played out his two-year deal and was excellent, and all signs pointed towards an easier negotiation and a long-term contract this past off-season. Instead, the two sides headed to arbitration and eventually landed on a one-year, $5.5-million deal, which means Trouba will become an RFA all over again next summer. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before Trouba is moved along by the Jets, particularly if money becomes tight after Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are re-signed.

Nick Ritchie — Anaheim Ducks — 2018-19
Ritchie’s circumstances were interesting. Through the lifespan of his entry-level deal, the burly winger had been good, but not great. He had back-to-back 10-goal campaigns in Years Two and Three of his deal, but nothing more than 14 goals in a season heading into free agency. His totals were 26 goals and 59 points in 186 games. And Ritchie’s average ice time was a mere 12:51 per game. However, he and the Ducks couldn’t come to terms on a new contract this past summer, and when Anaheim opened the season, Ritchie was nowhere to be found. Eventually, after Ritchie missed the first seven games of the season, he signed a three-year, $4.6-million show-me deal with the Ducks.

Outcome: With team. It’s still too early to know what will happen with Ritchie and the Ducks, but he’s started out well this season despite missing time due to the holdout and an injury. He has four goals and nine points in 13 games. That puts him on pace to hit 20 goals for the first time in his career and flirt with the 50-point plateau. He will have a case for a much better payday next time around if he keeps this up.


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