William Nylander and changing the narrative of an 8-year era

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
We’re eight years into an era of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey defined by a supernova offense that collapses within itself during the playoffs on command. If you’re reading this, you’re well-acquainted with this phenomena. William Nylander has the chance to change the narrative surrounding two presidential terms worth of disappointment that metastasizes into bile, before staging into quiet resentment.
Nylander was ruled out of the first three games of the series with a migraine, with the circumstances surrounding his absence initially unclear, despite playing in all 82 regular season games. Toronto’s dynamic winger told reporters he wasn’t worried about his return and during what appeared to be the nadir for the Core Four, tore into Mitch Marner on the bench, telling him ‘stop crying bro, this isn’t fucking junior!’ — a resonant call that was dissected scrupulously for the following 48 hours. Auston Matthews was later ruled out of the contest with an undisclosed illness and hasn’t appeared in the series since. Nylander returned to Game 5 and was an impact member of Toronto’s best line on the evening, driving a unit with John Tavares and Matthew Knies that outshot opponents 10-5 with a 77 percent share of the expected goals. Knies scored the overtime winner in Game 5, following up on a strong Tavares drive and then Nylander authored his finest performance as a Maple Leaf.
It’s largely because of Nylander’s two-goal performance in Game 6 that tonight’s contest feels different than previous years. Toronto is down its Hart Trophy candidate and Nylander is stepping up in quintessential form: calm, cool, understated, drippy, with exhilarating, game-breaking talent. Matthews’ absence has thrown a wrench into Toronto’s plans, there are few solutions when it comes to replacing a 69-goal scorer but Max Domi has performed admirably in the 1A centre role, while Nylander’s ability and adaptability allows him to be spread across any line for an instant boost of offense. Tonight, get the pedometer out. One week removed from a debilitating migraine, Nylander — along with a resurgent, unflappable Joseph Woll — are now primarily responsible for leading the Maple Leafs to a potential era- defining comeback against the loathed Boston Bruins.
Nylander signed an eight-year extension worth $92 million in January, a contract that was examined porously by fans and media members who’d rather pretend to be Bank of Canada economists, while poring over every decimal point. I don’t know how you quantify the joy and temporary relief Nylander’s performances have provided an angst-ridden Maple Leafs’ fan base. He’s worth every penny. Tonight’s Game 7 also doubles as an eight-year referendum on the Matthews-Marner era and Nylander should truly be the third name partner. He now has the opportunity to change the narrative of the past eight years entirely.

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