Obviously things aren't going well for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now, and the downward trend seems to stem from around the time that William Nylander signed his extension. Given the Toronto media market, it's no surprise that people are losing their minds about the entire situation. Mark this down because my opinionated ass won't say this much... but I'm not entirely sure what side I'm on.
Let me preface this article by saying I have always been a firm believer in Nylander with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Back when the Leafs were icing a team that looked like it couldn't compete with your average beer league team, I was singing the praises of this young Swede that was tearing up the AHL. I had so much faith in him that of the young stars that the Leafs brought up for the 2016-17 season, I decided to purchase a Nylander jersey.
The kid was incredible in his first two years, and I think people need to remember what he brought to the table these last two seasons. His shot was absolutely lethal, his possession numbers were great, and the chemistry between him and Auston Matthews looked relatively unmatched throughout the league.
This season, however, has been somewhat of a nightmare for Nylander, GM Kyle Dubas, Leafs fans, and just about everyone involved. The story is well documented so you probably already know it, but the Cole's notes version of the story is that Nylander held out and didn't sign his contract until late in the eleventh hour of November 30th (the day before the deadline.)
After the holdout, Nylander wasn't able to get into his first game until December 6th, meaning he was already 28 games behind the rest of his teammates. It was extremely evident early on that the time off was going to be an issue for a little bit. 20 games later and on the surface it seems like no strides have been made.
Nylander has just one goal and three assists through his first 20 games of the 2018-19 season, with two of the assists coming in the same game. He doesn't have a goal in his last eight games, and until Sunday night he had only recorded points in two games this year.
The defensive numbers for Willy really don't look like they have been that much better. On the basic side of things, Nylander is currently sitting at minus- 13, which is astonishing given his lack of games. On the more advanced side of things, his numbers don't look all that different than they have in previous years. The problem is, there are "experts" like Jeff O'Neill and Nick Kypreos who point out the couple plays a night where he may not be at peak performance.
The lack of scoring, coupled with the public perception that Nylander can't play defence, has brought up a conversation that I really hoped was done for a while... The trade Nylander conversation.
I understand Leafs fans, you're frustrated. But if you'll just take a step back and assess the situation you'll see what a bad idea that is. Sure, you're paying him a shit ton of money against the cap this year (10.27 million AAV), and then a good chunk of cash for the next five years after that (6.9 million AAV). Take yourself out of Leafland for a second... do you want to give up your best assets for that if you know the team isn't happy with his production? NOT A CHANCE!
This is hands down the lowest William Nylander's value has ever been. If your goal is to improve this team, then you can't seriously think that trading one of your best assets at their lowest point is a good idea. It should speak wonders that the trade rumors now involve Nylander plus, as opposed to just Nylander for a defenceman with term.
For me, I obviously don't want to see Willy traded at any point in time, but in this situation specifically, Leafs nation needs to have a little bit of patience. Yes, Nylander hasn't put anything in the net, and his stat line does not look pretty, but there has to be a reason for that right? Well, here it is.
There is zero puck luck right now for William Nylander. To me, shot percentage is a very telling stat on the luck for superstar goal scorers like Nylander to see how well things are going. James Mirtle of The Athletic tweeted out a diagram of Nylander's numbers that showed the incredible outlier that is his shooting percentage from this season. Nylander's percentage peaked in his short stint in 2015-16 at 13.95%, then it dropped slightly and stayed relatively consistent at 10.73% and 10.87% respectively. This year, however, it has dipped to 3.03%.
You don't even have to be a die hard hockey supporter to know that something is up with those numbers. I know for a fact that the skeptical Leafs fans are going to blame it on this so called "weight change" that certain terrible analysts have been talking about, but I don't think that has anything to do with it. Realistically, if Nylander goes home and shaves tonight, he'll wake up looking exactly like he did last year.
That may just be my opinion, but again, the numbers are there to back up my claims. First of all, Nylander has been missing the net significantly more this season than his previous two full seasons. Last year, Nylander missed the net on 21.37% of his shot attempts. This season, however, Nylander has missed the net on 30.9% of his shot attempts. Those numbers aren't sustainable for someone as talented as Nylander.
You want to keep blaming it on skill? Fine, those numbers won't do it for you. There's one more stat that I think is very telling.
Pucks just aren't getting through the way they used to. Last year, Nylander was able to get 48.3% of his 379 shot attempts through the defenders and on net. This year he has had a serious regression in that category, putting only 39.3% of his 84 shots on net. If you average out those numbers to match his career average of 50.2% you would add nine more shots on goal. If he is able to convert on a third of those, he would be sitting at four goals, making his slow start a little easier to stomach.
Yes, Nylander hasn't been good... but has anyone? Marner and Tavares have been great, there's no denying that, but outside of them everyone seems to be slumping. The goal numbers hurt but they might be an anomaly. The assist numbers on the other hand are solely based on the struggles of his linemates. Whether it's the fact that the lines are being tweaked every other period, or the fact that guys are just not doing what they normally do, something is clearly not working, and Nylander's numbers are hurting because of it.
After all is said and done I don't know whether or not I've cleared anything up on whether or not the big contract was worth it for the future of this team. As for this season, give it a little time; once the team comes off of this terrible stretch, the numbers support that Willy will come out with it. Complain all you want, I know I have, but don't throw Willy away just yet.