After holding out for a hefty contract last season, William Nylander really struggled to find his game, and slowly became the new whipping boy on the Maple Leafs. Nylander and Maple Leafs’ management could not agree on contract terms for the talented winger, and Nylander ended up having to sit out the first two months of the season. They agreed on Dec. 1st, 2018 to a six-year deal worth an average of $6.9 million. The contract was front-loaded, as Nylander would make $10.2 million in the first year of this deal.
The pressure was now on Nylander to perform. Signing such a lucrative contract came with expectations from Leafs nation. Toronto is already one of the most difficult places to play in, and the media is all over every little topic. Things did not go well at all for Nylander during his first couple months of last season. Through his first 21 games, Nylander had only scored one single goal. Fans and media were all over the slumping star, and questioning the Maple Leafs’ decision to sign him to such a big contract.
Things began to spiral downhill for Nylander, as coach Mike Babcock demoted him to the fourth line at one point. Nylander clearly was not in game shape, and sitting out the first couple months ended up being detrimental to his development. GM Kyle Dubas was quick to take the blame for the contract dispute. He argued that he should have dealt with things before the season began, and he regretted how he dealt with the situation.
Nylander finished last season with 27 points in 54 games. This was extremely disappointing for a player making over $10 million. He scored only 7 goals and the signing was looking to be wasted money for the Maple Leafs.
Fast-forward to this season, and Nylander has done a spectacular job bouncing back and proving his worth. He knew he had to have a big season to prove the doubters wrong and live up to his hefty contract. So far, so good, as Nylander has 17 goals and 18 assists through his first 41 games. He looks like a man on a mission, absolutely dominating puck possession in many shifts, and showing great chemistry with his line mates.
Coach Sheldon Keefe has opted to put Nylander on a line with the captain, John Tavares. They have shown incredible chemistry since being paired together, as Nylander has 12 points in his last 7 games, including four multi-point performances. The Maple Leafs have a very dynamic top-six group of forwards to put out there every night. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have performed admirably since being paired together, and now Nylander and Tavares have formed another lethal threat for the opposition.
Keefe was asked a question about Nylander’s recent play and this is how he responded: “He’s been really good here now,” Keefe said. “Whether it’s him just finding his own game and being comfortable, or the switch in the lines and that chemistry there, or the presence of John on his line, [he’s been good]. And his presence on the power play, where I think he’s gotten a lot more comfortable with his role that he’s playing there [at the net front], which has been a new role for him. All those sort of things seem to be falling into place and he’s been excellent.”
It’s been an exciting bounce-back season for Nylander after his disastrous 2018-19 campaign. He is now proving his worth, and living up the contract he signed. If he keeps up his production, he will be on pace for 70 points at the end of the year. Many fans of Leafs Nation will be happy with that number and the scrutiny surrounding Nylander’s contract will soon be put to rest.
Shilton, K. (2020 January 2) Keefe’s hunch of forward lines pays off for Maple Leafs | TSN. Retrieved from