Forget playoffs, divisional rivals, Auston Matthews, load management for Andersen, John Tavares’ first season as a Leaf, and Mitch Marner’s electric season. 2018/19 was all about William Nylander, and now he’s relishing the diminished spotlight in Slovakia.
Nobody was more scrutinized on the Maple Leaf roster this season than December hold out William Nylander and for good reason. This isn’t going to be a witch hunt for the blonde haired winger, nor a plea for lessened criticism, just a portraying of the situation and a possible way forward.
The way forward starts in Slovakia, something I didn’t think I’d be saying at this point in the Maple Leafs’ rebuild. Unfortunately, as it was in the James Reimer days, the Leafs were bounced from the playoffs and now it’s time to analyze their play from across the world.
The social media slander is still ripe on Facebook and Twitter regarding Nylander, but it doesn’t hit as close to home when he’s enjoying international play in Europe.
Like the Russians of Tampa Bay who immediately boarded a flight to Europe after a quick and embarrassing post-season, Nylander was on a bird across the Atlantic to join up with team Sweden. He’s playing on a line with Pettersson and Leafs fans need to lay off and hope he resets at the tournament.
So far so good for Nylander who sits atop the IIHF leaderboard for points after three games. His two goals have been boosted by six assists to get him to the top of the list. This total was recently boosted by a five-point performance (1g, 4a) against Norway.
He’s on an awesome pace right now and is looking like he’s shaken the monkey off his back that’s been there all (abbreviated) season for him with the Leafs.
For those suggesting the Leafs trade the forward, let’s take into account a few things. Firstly, his value has never been lower with his 27 points in 54 games this year. Secondly, his cap hit is a stumbling block at that production level. Lastly, Kyle Dubas promised Nylander that his signing wouldn’t be followed by a trade.
Of all these points, the last one is most important. The Leafs are currently crunched by their limited cap space and the modus operandi of the team is now to ask for hometown discounts in exchange for proposed dynastic success.
If there is a loss of trust between players, on the team or free agents, and the management, then that potential pay structure will fall apart fast. The best resolution for the Leafs, their fans, the future of the team, and William Nylander is for the player to pick up his pace, earn his way back onto Auston Matthews line, and start producing at a level we all believe he’s capable of.
This starts with the World Hockey Championship. He’s already there, he’s scoring and contributing at an MVP pace, and he’s playing with Elias Pettersson, a dynamic playmaking center. This tournament, while generally useless, is important for the Leafs to get the mind of their star winger correct for the 2019/20 season.