By Matt Paul
October 25, 2018
Leaf fans rejoice. Years of mediocre results with occasional glimmers of hope only to be bungled by any combination of miss-management of personnel, staff or an overall lack of execution. There is a decidedly different feel to the new structure and staff at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. The current group of management and players may finally deliver for starving fans.
Is one player going to make the difference?
In the case of William Nylander’s bridge deal or long term deal as it impacts the current team, I believe the answer is yes. We cannot argue the results of the player over the first two seasons in the NHL, the pedigree of his father or the importance of chemistry in generating success at the highest level. Despite Auston Matthews start shooting the percentage lights out and amassing 10 goals in the young season, the emergence of Kasperi Kapanen and the arrival of John Tavares; the Leafs are still missing a piece up front in their attack. A trickle down of talent sees Kadri lacking another above average even strength winger to compliment his skill set and reward his unique contributions. Having Nylander in the fold allows the Leafs to make a choice to employ Patrick Marleau or Kapanen on the third line.
Explosive offense can be shut down by a hot goaltender and great defensive systems which the Leafs have proved on occasion with great performances from Frederick Andersen or by recent losses to Pittsburg (Matt Murray). Do the Leafs require an upgrade over Ron Hainsey on their top paring defense? Of course, however the need is outstripped by the demand in the organization for goaltending and top end talent. In the system after Josh Leivo and Andreas Johnsson there is Carl Grundstrom, Trevor Moore and Pierre Engvall, all of whom are possible 3rd or 4th line options on the Leafs and potential key contributors to future success. None of them can allow the team to ice a scary offensive line-up as William Nylander’s placement on the wing of Auston Matthews can.
The question now becomes a financial one, is it worth paying $5 to 8 million dollars to a player for a chance to put the team over the top now and continue to have a better than average chance to win the Stanley Cup. Today, not over the next few years, right now is the time that this choice is a legitimate one. The names I mentioned in the preceding paragraph will be affordable options to replace Marleau’s contract, which coupled with promising Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen and Timothy Liljegren on defense provide affordable options to replace defensemen in a cap conscious league. Travis Dermott is the only unmentioned player along with Justin Holl who should replace Hainsey today.
So the value of Nylander is both future success and present. The value does warrant paying in the short or long term. It does not in any way warrant a trade or divestiture of the asset. The Leafs have to have faith in their current crop of defensive prospects to continue to develop on schedule to fill upcoming gaps. Sign him now.