‘Hockey Night in Canada’ crew visits the X
Wild center Eric Staal has accumulated plenty of accolades and experiences in his 15-year career, with a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal and five All-Star Game appearances among the highlights.
But he still managed to add a new one Saturday.
Facing off against the team he rooted for as a child, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on “Hockey Night in Canada.”
“I thought maybe after we won the Stanley Cup [in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes] we might have a chance the next year on a Saturday night against the Leafs,” Staal said. “But I grew up watching. Obviously, ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ it’s a great broadcast and a great show.”
The program, which almost always features the Leafs, is appointment-viewing in Canada — much like football in the United States on Sunday and Monday nights — and catching the action was a staple for players who grew up in Canada wanting to land in the NHL one day, too.
“It’s exciting for all Canadians that play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It’s what we grew up on.”
This spotlight, however, wasn’t the only circumstance adding intrigue to the Wild’s matchup against Toronto.
St. Paul captivated the hockey world Saturday afternoon, as teams, players and fans waited for word on whether Maple Leafs forward and restricted free agent William Nylander would sign before the 4 p.m. Central-Time deadline.
If he wasn’t under contract by then, he would have been ineligible to play this season in the NHL.
But Nylander and the Leafs did reach an agreement on a six-year contract that has an average annual value of $10.2 million this season and $6.9 million for Years 2-6.
“In the end, him missing a full season and having to go across [the deadline] today wouldn’t have been good for anybody,” Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas said. “Not for the team, not for William. So you always kind of maintain that faith. As you get closer to the deadline, you start to maybe doubt it a little bit. But in the end, we’re happy that it ended with him signing.”
This negotiation didn’t resolve in time for Nylander to play against the Wild.
Winger Tyler Ennis is on the Wild’s payroll for this season and next, but he suited up for the Maple Leafs Saturday and contributed a goal.
The Wild bought out the remainder of Ennis’ contract this past summer after he struggled in his first and only season with the team, recording just eight goals and 22 points in 73 games.
That freed up the 29-year-old to sign a one-year, $650,000 deal with Toronto.
Ennis, whom the Wild added via trade from the Buffalo Sabres in June 2017 with two seasons remaining on a five-year, $23 million deal, will receive approximately $2.4 million from the Wild spread out over the next two years.
With Toronto, Ennis has become a regular lower in the team’s lineup.
Before his return to Xcel Energy Center, he boasted three goals and seven points in 23 games.
“He’s a real good person,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He plays with a lot of tenacity and with a lot of speed. He’s a depth forward for us; that’s the stage of his career. But he’s good at it, and he enjoys it and he enjoys being on the team and we enjoy having him.”
Time to vote
Voting to determine the four captains at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game is open online at NHL.com/Vote and on the NHL App.
Fans can select as few as one player or a maximum of four per ballot, with 10 ballots the maximum a fan can cast in a 24-hour period.
The top vote-getters in each division, regardless of position, will be named All-Stars.
This season’s exhibition will be Jan. 25-26 in San Jose, Calif.