Last night, the dream tandem of Mitchel Marner and Auston Matthews was finally unlocked. All we had to do was patiently wait for half a decade to see arguably the best passer in the league be paired with one of the premier shooters. And that in itself is absolutely ridiculous. Every day I have to take a deep breath and stop myself from screaming when I think about how utterly horrible of a coach Mike Babcock was. Tavares was then flanked by the emerging workhorses Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev, with Marner and Hyman playing with Matthews. Do these two lines now make Nylander more expendable than ever? That is a deadly top 6, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any Leafs fan who would argue.
Nylander has always been a polarizing figure in Toronto. He is elite in the neutral zone, conveniently a puck hound in the offensive zone, but gives consistently horrible efforts in his own end. And it’s not that he is suddenly void of talent when the puck gets deep in the Leaf’s zone, it’s that he just does not care. He’s that guy in rec hockey that just cruises the red line, waiting for the puck. It’s because his goal isn’t winning, but filling the net. And he is great at scoring by times, as long as its from in tight. Why? Because his shot is absolutely brutal. Powerful? yes. Accurate? Hell no. The bottom line is that he just is not talented enough to take off the amount of shifts he does defensively. Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to agree, after stapling Willy to the bench after another horrific defensive effort in last night’s win against the Red Wings. Plays like this are more the rule rather than the exception for 88 I’m afraid:
This is an extremely common lack of effort by Nylander. And until they come up with a stat that shows how often you stop skating and half-assed toss your stick at players in the d-zone, the chart-smart crowd will likely never understand how horrible of an effort this is. If you think this is a one time thing, I encourage you to go view @breakaway23 ‘s account on Twitter. He has an entire 500+ volume collection saved of Nylander not skating in the D-zone and just flailing at the puck. Some are a reach, I’ll admit. But he has tons of material illustrating my point. Here is a perfect example of what I mean:
In this clip Nylander fails to get his ass in gear and pick up Travis Hamonic, who then buries it.
See here is the thing: I do not hate Nylander. Even though I am pretty sure I actually wrote an article before called “I hate William Nylander”. But I don’t. Honest. I came into this season trying to give him a clean slate. Same goes for Mike Firedcock. You see, I’m big on second chances. We all need one sometimes. After Willy looked horrible last year, I fully gave the talented proscuitto-eater the summer to get it together. I predicted 30 goals / 70 points. Maybe even some back-checking. I don’t think I was out of line in expecting this bounce back from him. But he is still giving the same half-assed effort he did against Boston in last year’s annual 1st round exit. In case you forgot:
Now after that kind of defensive indifference, I expected better this year. But it really hasn’t been any different. Nylander still floats so much you’d think he was abducted by Pennywise. There are hundreds of these plays if you do not mind burying your bias and finding them. I highly suggest taking an honest look at Willy’s defensive efforts, and type “Nylander Lazy” into Twitter search, and watch the media results. You’ll see what I mean. This is a clip vs. Boston that is just one of a million examples of that he simply does not care:
As you can see, 88 turns it over at the offensive blue-line while his team is in deep. A Cardinal Sin in hockey. When Boston goes back the other way, please note the weak back-check, particularly when he is skating between blue lines. For a guy who can move like the wind, he sure does do this type of stuff often! Again, look closely as he trails #22, Peter Cehlarik. Nylander should easily keep up with him, but mails it in and is in a horrible position to defend if there is a rebound. You have to see this, right?
What if I told you that these are the types of reasons why half the fanbase does not like William Nylander? Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t because they are “gay” or “xenophobic”, etc. They can’t stand anybody mailing it in like this, much less on a regular basis. I get it. And I personally feel like these efforts make his net worth as a Leaf a negative. He surely should not be saddling down Auston Matthews anymore.
I’ve been in an interesting spot this year. I have a sizeable bet on Auston Matthews to win the Rocket Richard trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. So I’ve had the luxury of watching every shift he has had through an entirely different lens than I normally would have in the past. I can tell you this much: he is not happy. You can point to all the old quotes or advanced stats as you want – You’re not going to change my mind. Because he hardly has any touches of the puck in the offensive zone, and often looks dejected. This is what I see on the bulk of their rushes:
-Nylander enters zone with puck on a rope.
-Matthews either heads to the net, or does laps trying to get open.
-Willy drives puck to corner and back up along boards, and either unloads a laser shot that misses the net, or tosses up a pizza.
-Matthews looks frustrated leaving the zone as they go back the other way. Almost always dragging-ass, I might add.
Most of their goals are entirely individual efforts. Go watch them. I beg you. @rahef_issa posted on Twitter a collection of 7 goals they scored together. 2 of said goals were the type I would attribute chemistry to. The other 5 were just passes where the goal scorer drove/shot and scored. Yet people drool over it because they are “primary assists”. But this perceived chemistry between them is entirely invented because Auston Matthews is one of the best players in the world and Willy is on his wing. They are absolutely not a “dynamic duo”. He is just amazing. It is very similar to the Rob Brown affect.
Rob Brown played with Mario Lemieux, who I might add, is Auston Matthews most obvious 80’s comparable. Try and guess what years Rob played on Lemieux’s wing:
I think its fairly obvious that you can take a below average player and propel them to an All Star if you are as talented as Lemieux. Nobody is calling Nylander a “Rob Brown”, but are we really supposed to be tripping all over ourselves for a 60 point pace playing with Auston Matthews? Really? I find 88’s point totals entirely underwhelming. And when you couple that with these constantly subpar defensive efforts, and the potential cap relief, I think moving him is the wisest move for the Leafs.
Moving on from Nylander would provide two things for Toronto. First, your shedding a massive cap hit at 6.9 million which can go a long way into balancing the team. The Leafs are extremely top heavy. If you can do just as well with the top two lines without him, why would you pay that kind of money for a third liner? You can turn that cap hit and talent into a much needed big piece on the back end. This is where I will win the hockey guys, and lose the fan boi’s. It’s true. Secondly, you’re removing a defensive liability. I considered keeping him, as I have all the time in the world for 3rd lines that can score. But you likely have to shelter him with Zach Hyman, and at the end of the day its just not worth it. I’d absolutely prefer to have a hungry Marlie forward + good defenceman under contract vs. Nylander on 3rd line.
I think we all know how many will react to this analysis. Some will accuse me of all the ‘isms. Others will think I simply do not know better because I’m failing to take into account how he thrives on all their graphs. It’s fine. You use a bunch of Kenneth and Toronto Baghead videos as evidence, and it makes it so easy for the closed-minded to write off your very valid opinion. That’s the nature of the beast. But I highly doubt I will have one counter argument refuting my accusations of his consistent defensive laziness. You do not win Stanley Cups with key pieces like that. Not unless they are scoring 50 goals and sheltered with offensive zone starts. Nylander is the Leafs’ fourth best forward, and in no way talented enough to deserve being used that way in my opinion. His value for this particular team will be achieved in trading him to address our weakness: defence. And he is good enough to land us a great one.
We need to trade Nylander, and trade him soon. The Leafs are so blessed that Dubas had the vision to acquire Engvall and Mikheyev. It has made Nylander expendable, and Toronto definitely need to take advantage.