TORONTO – The difference was striking at Monday’s morning skate at the Scotiabank Arena home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
David Pastrnak was out in the middle of the stretch circle at the end of Boston’s morning skate doing some of the same staid, boring stretch exercises that have been going on at hockey practices for decades. At the end, though, Pastrnak was there with that trademark twinkle lifting his arms over his head and then lifting his stick over his head in a little goal celebration stretch along with his amused Bruins teammates.
It’s the exact kind of playful spin that Pastrnak has always displayed with the Bruins since debuting as the youngest player in the NHL when he was 18 years old. Certainly, you wouldn’t guess that the 22-year-old Pastrnak has been held without a goal in the last five games, and with just one point over that span as well.
Then there’s fellow 22-year-old and 2014 first round pick William Nylander, who was selected 17 picks higher than Pastrnak at eighth overall by the Maple Leafs. Nylander wasn’t at Toronto morning skate and hasn’t played all season for the Leafs while in a prolonged contract stalemate with the Maple Leafs coming out of his entry-level deal.
The latest is that the Leafs and Nylander are “close” in negotiations with a deadline fast approaching that would force the young winger to sit out the entire 2018-19 hockey season. He’s already missed the first 24 games of the season for the Leafs, and they’ve done very well without him posting a 16-8-0 record over that time span.
The sense is that if Nylander were willing to sign for the $6 million range that Pastrnak did a year ago, the deal might already be done.
Pastrnak and Nylander are buddies after playing together in Sweden prior to getting drafted and would have normally dined together on Sunday night if the Leafs winger was in Toronto suiting up for the Leafs. Instead, he’s away from the team and Toronto and Pastrnak was left to answer questions about him from the curious Toronto media. Needless to say, things have played out very differently for the Leafs and Nylander than they did for Pastrnak and the Bruins.
The 22-year-old missed exactly one practice for the Bruins in training camp before signing a six-year
“Obviously I miss him around here. Usually we grab dinner. I wish him well and hopefully he’s going to get signed soon,” said Pastrnak. “I don’t talk to him about this stuff. I kind of knew how it was last year where everybody is trying to talk to you about the contract, so we don’t really talk about it. We keep it in the normal way.
“When we played together, we both loved hockey. It’s definitely hard for him to not play hockey. You’ve got to give him some respect because he’s sitting out for a while and he’s patient. Whatever it is at the end of the day, you need to be patient and get what you think you deserve. It’s your whole life. I just wanted to play. My agent came to me and said this is what you should sign for and then I went to Boston.”
There are reasons why things are playing out differently for Pastrnak and Nylander, of course. Pastrnak grew up in a Czech family supported largely by his mother where the money wasn’t plentiful and there was appreciation for everything they did have. The 22-year-old Bruins winger lost his hockey-playing father, Milan, to cancer months before he was drafted and subsequently made the NHL, and that was after he spent chunks of time away from his family during Pastrnak’s younger days while playing hockey at different spots in Europe.
Nylander was born the son of a prolific offensive NHL player, Michael, who was well-versed in both the nomadic life of an NHL player moving from city to city, and made plenty of money in his 920-game NHL career. In fact these days it sounds as if Nylander’s father is serving as an adviser to William in his contract situation with the Leafs, and is perhaps behind some of the hardline posturing after his son has averaged a good-but-not-great 21 goals and 61 points over the previous two seasons.
When Pastrnak signed his six-year, $40 million contract, he joked that his first big purchase was an $8 sushi meal at the mall food court. It’s clear in his comments that he doesn’t regret taking a reasonable second contract, and he certainly doesn’t have second thoughts about making sure he didn’t miss any real time with his NHL club.
“Not at all. If you asked me when I was 15 years old if I’d be playing for $6 million a year when I was 22 years old, I wouldn’t think you’d be telling the truth,” said Pastrnak. “[The $40 million contract] was a dream that came true for me. I’m happy with what I’m getting. I could be playing in the Czech right now for a couple of hundred bucks a month. So I’m really happy.”
That’s called proper perspective from somebody that clearly still lets his love for playing hockey still come through with the joyful way he plays. It’s tough to take issue with anybody bettering themselves financially in any way they can, but it also feels like there’s an element of calculation and stone cold business acumen to Nylander’s contract impasse.
Maybe Nylander will sign and become the player Pastrnak is for Boston right now. The chances are strong he’s holding out for a bigger payday than Pasta that he may or may not get.
But one thing is for certain: The Bruins should be happy they got the guy in Pastrnak that’s got everything in perspective, didn’t hold the Bruins over a barrel when he might have done it for a few more dollars and is simply happy that he’s becoming one of the best young players in the NHL with each passing season. Those guys are worth their weight in Black and Gold.
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