Michael Nylander, the Washington Capitals third line $4.5 million center, enjoyed his heyday in New York City not even three seasons ago. There, he played alongside all-time legend and contemporary Washington foe, Jaromir Jagr, and racked up a career best in points in 2006-2007.
While the bald Swede does have outstanding qualities like smooth skating, nifty stickhandling, and superb passing technique, he simply has not lived up to his standards – never mind expectations. What is expected of him this year is still up in the air (see interview with Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).
Nylander maintains that he is still 100 percent committed to the Capitals organization and winning a championship with the team. George McPhee in contrast deems the Stockholm native is exploring his options in Russia like his former New York teammate did just one summer ago.
Should Nylander depart the D.C. dry spell that has defined his second tenure in the nation’s capital? He has all the right to stay and serve out two more tours if he so chooses (no-trade clause). The belief here is that he can be a positive contributor on this Washington team given two agile and sturdy wingers.
Remember in his first season back as a Cap in 2007-2008, the 36-year old was almost a point-per-game player – but his season was cut short due to a painful shoulder injury. On the flipside he was also a minus-19, whereas this season he was an even player with rubbish point totals.
What seemed like a falling out with Bruce Boudreau this season cannot be construed as the coach cold-shouldering the skilled center. If Nylander shows he can participate in Gabby’s system and contribute on the score sheet regularly, it will give him confidence while regains his form of three years ago.
Brendan Morrison was just four years ago a core member of the Vancouver Canucks along with the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, and Todd Bertuzzi. Because of injuries and being out of form, in 2008-2009 he had a down season just like number 92. Yet, McPhee instilled the same confidence in him when he was signed in July that he attempted to do with Nyls just two off-seasons ago.
In addition, Nylander was originally offered a contract on the presumption that he would interchange between first and second center for the duration of his contract. This means he was intended to play with Alex Ovechkin, but Nicklas Backstrom quickly developed into the sure fire top dog.
When Nyls plays second pivot alongside “other Alex,” the result is pitiful as neither seems to “get” the other player. Most times Sasha Semin is waiting for that perfect pass while the Swede circles – then circles again, and again, and one more time for good measure – before the play dissipates. Third line minutes are not his cup o’ tea because the 12 to 14 minutes he ices every game aren’t enough for a magician, a creator, a tactician to rack up that desired point per game.
Nylander is a worthy member of this team, even a team this stacked on offense. He just needs to find his place in the system. Without a doubt, there is one. If he sticks around, 15 goals and 30 assists should silence any spring hissy fits.