If pundits are to be believed, William Nylander’s time as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs is dangerously close to its end.
We’ve been hearing about this since last year. There were constant radio hits declaring him as lazy, or selfish, or short-sighted, or soft. He was too self-centred to be a part of a team that just needed him to take a nice discount, and teams were told to prepare offers to get him off of Toronto’s hands.
Now, we’ve all but come full circle. Even though Nylander has 11 points in 16 games, fits in perfectly as a secondary face-off taker in the Maple Leafs’ top six, and is a phenomenal play driver for Toronto, we’re back on our bullshit as a collective internet community.
It’s only been a year since Nylander was on the mythical trading block for his extended contract negotiations, but he’s back on the Narnia block once again — this time, inexplicably, to make room for Zach Hyman.
"Once Hyman's back, if Nylander is not shopped I'm going to be really surprised."@mikezigomanis thinks the #Leafs could be making a big move in the near future @ScottyMacThinks @SmrtAsh.#LeafsForever | #LeadOff
— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) November 6, 2019
I don’t really even know where to start with this, so I might as well start with full disclosure: I like Zach Hyman. I like Zach Hyman quite a bit, actually. He seems like a net positive in the cesspool of modern hockey culture, his children’s book is an absolute banger, and he’s by all accounts a great teammate in all situations.
But are we really at this point? Let’s take a breather.
To start, Nylander had one of his best games of the year against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, putting up a goal and an assist in Toronto’s 3-1 win over their Western Conference opponents. He had three shot attempts — one went wide of the net from the right face-off dot, another was blocked by Kurtis MacDermid, and one went in — and one takeaway on the Kings blue line in the second period. He didn’t cough up the puck, only took two hits — one behind the net and one along the boards in the neutral zone — and logged the sixth-highest ice time among team forwards despite not playing on the team’s PK.
We can argue that Auston Matthews’ positive praise of his chemistry with Nylander is a good reason not to trade him, but we almost don’t even need to do that. His numbers, frankly, do that well enough for us without needing to use positive teammate platitudes given to the media to claim he’s indispensable.
For starters, he’s one of the team’s most opportunity-driven players through their first 16 games played, bar none. At even strength, he has the highest individual expected goals created rate on the team, clocking in above even the more-expensive Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, or John Tavares. He has the team’s ninth-highest individual points percentage, too, at 61.5% — meaning that he’s earned a point on 61% of the goals scored by Toronto while he’s on the ice.
Beyond that, though, Toronto has backed themselves into a bit of a corner. At this point, no team in the league sees the situation that they’re in and likely feels any inclination to give them a clean, fair market value on Nylander, especially in a way that can cumulatively make up for what they’ll lose when he departs; they might be able to get his value in picks and prospects, but they certainly won’t get anything that’s going to help them as they try to wade through a myriad of teams that are happily forging ahead and putting up impressive starts to the year.
Is there a potential trade for Nylander in Toronto’s future? Possibly. Heck, even probably. The team, barring a massive cap increase, is going to find themselves in serious hot water when it comes to trying to keep their roster competitive in the next 2-3 years and is going to have to sell someone off to remain cap compliant. That might mean Nylander, whose deal is arguably the most palatable of their current superstars.
But right now, the team is far from perfect on the ice – and he’s far from one of the invisible players as they try to pull ahead of the pack early on.
If they think they can lose him and stay near the top, they’re in for a nasty shock. Which, of course, is why a trade scenario to move him out and get Zach Hyman back on the ice only exists in one place – the heads of the radio hosts who want everyone to give them a click.
Let’s all just settle down.