You can stop worrying about William Nylander, Leafs fans

Feb 25 2021, 6:07 pm

Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander heard what you said about him and shoved it right back in your face. Well, at least he played like he did, even if he didn’t admit it to the media.

With one goal in his last 10 prior to Wednesday night, Nylander’s critics were out in full force. And asĀ the Leafs were down 1-0 late against the Flames on Wednesday night and looking like they were headed for a second straight loss, the Calgary-born Swedish international came through with as clutch a pair of finishes as you’ll see in the league this season to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

First, there was the tying goal with just under 90 seconds left in regulation.

And just over a minute into overtime, Nylander put the game to bed.

In a different timeline, the Leafs lose their second consecutive game for the first time this season and have to have a bit of a gut-check. While they’ve never been in serious danger of missing the postseason or anything too serious, no goals through 118 minutes of hockey as they had in two games this week against the Flames is usually at least a little alarming.

But in this sprint of a shortened season, the Leafs picked up a critical two points and jumped back to a six-point cushion on top of the North Division, and can look ahead to their next game Saturday while considering it a blip rather than the new normal.

And to be clear, though it was easily his biggest standout performance of the season yet, they wouldn’t be able to have this sort of success without the services of one William Nylander.

Nylander’s predicament

The Leafs’ fourth-highest paid forward, Nylander entered Wednesday… fourth amongst Leafs forwards in scoring with five goals and nine assists in 20 games. His points-per-game mark of 0.70 was just a blip off his career mark of 0.72, putting him on pace for just about 40 points in the 56 game span. For a solid complementary core piece, that’s a pretty solid return and about what you’d expect from a player of his calibre and contract status.

And yet, it’s hard to log on to a social media network or have a chat with any group of Leafs fans and find at least one person looking to send Nylander on the next flight out of town. It’s almost comical at this point, if it weren’t so darn frequent.

Even the strongest of William Nylander fans can recognize where some of the animosity that has followed the winger around his last few seasons comes from.

HeĀ is a little bit aloof at times, both on and off the ice. HeĀ does wear ridiculous outfits (even if he can pull it off as well as anyone in the league, and uh, that has nothing to do with his play.)

But more than any other reason (coupled with the unfortunate xenophobia often given towards non-North American players), Nylander’s biggest demise came from being involved in the longest RFA standoff in league history, finally signing his six-year deal, $6.9 million AAV deal after missing the first two full months of the 2018-19 season.

Even though the remainder of that year was far from his best for a variety of reasons, (as he put up 27 points in 54 games), it’s been two full calendar years since Nylander has returned to the Leafs.

He’s proven himself last year as a 30-goal calibre forward, and since entering the league as a regular in 2016-17, ranks 74th in league scoring, placing him at a first-line rate. Pretending Nylander’s career in Toronto has been perfect isn’t quite the whole truth, but after being taken eighth in the 2014 draft, he’s currently… seventh in scoring from that draft class.

He’s performing exactly like he should be for his role, his pay, and his expectations, and pretending otherwise is a waste of energy.

The worth

One narrative that has followed Nylander (or Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares as well) is that his contract is the one to sink the Leafs. Spend five seconds to check out the standings (the Leafs remain in first in the NHL, in case you missed that) and their salary cap situation to realize that’sĀ complete malarkey.

The Leafs have made improvements to their defence the last few years with TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, and even the development of Justin Holl.

Add in the contracts to players like Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Travis Boyd, who have filled out their forward depth. Nylander’s contract has been a non-issue, as much as anyone would like to tell you otherwise.

And hey, it appears Nylander’s teammates are a big fan of him too.

The Leafs aren’t perfect by any means, but they’re having about as great a season as anyone could’ve predicted.Ā And now, just like it always has been, William Nylander showed once again that the Leafs are better off keeping him around for the long haul.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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