It has became abundantly clear that the Leafs duo of Auston Matthews and William Nylander was simply not working anymore. They were a nightmare in their own zone, and their offensive chemistry was extremely inconsistent, often leaving much to be desired. Now that Mitch Marner has been (finally) paired with #34, Nylander’s role on the Maple Leafs appears to have decreased. This week, I suggested it is time for Toronto to move on from Willy. It was an honest attempt at an unbiased critique of his defensive effort (or lack thereof). But what I find myself musing today is that perhaps the answer to Nylander’s problems could be found by playing with Maple Leafs’ Captain, John Tavares.
Johnny freakin’ Tavares. The Whammy-in-Jammies himself! He is known for making average players into stars, and I think that he could possibly have the same impact on Nylander as he did on the former Islanders winger, Matt Moulson. Tavares is so good, he carried his then-teammate around for a few years and got Moulson paid. And I mean paid. 25 million from Buffalo for 5 years, to be exact. Never change, Pegulas.
Take a look at these inflated numbers:
Once Moulson stopped playing with JT, his numbers regressed to a point where he suddenly made Alex Kerfoot look like Connor McDavid. If Tavares could do this with a player of Moulson’s ilk, imagine what he could do dragging the offensively talented Nylander around with him?
The added benefit from this strategy is that you do not put Mikheyev and Engvall in a position to crush the competition, inflate their stats, and then rob the cap crunched Maple Leafs with their inevitably increased salary demands. That has been Toronto’s modus operandi in recent years (See Marner, Mitch). It actually makes sense to play the guy with Tavares who has already been paid. I think I speak for everybody when I say that I do not want to see Ilya Mikheyev score 20 more goals down the stretch and then price himself out of Toronto as a UFA. Thank you, no.
Also, if Dubas does intend to trade Nylander, it only makes sense to put him in a position to pump his stats up. Mitch Marner went from 69 to 94 points in one season after being given Tavares (The worst move of the whole rebuild from a cap perspective, but that is a different article altogether). If opposing teams are rightfully occupied with the newly formed (and terrifying) duo of Matthews/Marner, then Tavares/Nylander should absolutely destroy the opposition’s weaker lines.
Another possibility is that Willy finally finds his defensive hustle playing alongside the elder statesman. At 29 years old, Tavares is practically Sophia from the Golden Girls compared to the rest of the Leafs. I firmly believe he commands more respect that Matthews. And when 88 or 34 took a night off, the other one would almost always follow suit. No matter how many stats you show me, I know when I am watching players mail it in. And they mailed it in a ton. The only knock I’ve ever seen on Tavares is that his foot speed isn’t the greatest. But he is seldom accused of taking nights off, or even shifts for that matter.
Whether you love Nylander or want him on the first plane out of town, Tavares is likely the exact thing that the talented-but-lazy-Calgarian-or-Swede-Proscuttio-eating-baby-kissing-slick-hair-havin-never-back-checkin-but-great-zone-entry-son-of-a-gun needs. Tavares and Nylander has to happen. It is then, and only then, that will we know exactly of how much of value Willy is to the Maple Leafs. And if Nylander isn’t what the Leafs need, at least he will have great stats to ensure a good return.