For the past couple of seasons, the discussion surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs has been about benefitting and protecting their core four players. Auston Matthews. Mitch Marner. William Nylander. And John Tavares.
The team has built around these four and made them the centrepiece in trying to take the next step towards winning a Stanley Cup. While it’s been handcuffing at time to the Maple Leafs – especially with the tight cap this season – the four combine for over $40-million of the team’s cap and 49.7 percent of the team’s cap.
Now, with Zach Hyman set to become a free agent following the 2020-21 season, the conversation is being had surrounding his place on the team – a secondary piece or the fifth member of the team’s core.
Hyman’s a Core Piece
While he might not be paid like the Maple Leafs’ other core four, Hyman’s importance in the team’s lineup is unmeasurable. His speed, his physical presence, his ability to play the penalty kill and make those around him better are so often left out of the conversation that he is often looked at as a secondary piece. But that perspective needs to change.
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Over the past six seasons, Hyman has played 340 regular season games for the Maple Leafs collecting 84 goals and 180 points over that span – meanwhile averaging just over 17 minutes of ice-time.
Sure, he’s not the most offensive threat on a team that includes Matthews, Marner and others, but the intangibles that come with a player like Hyman set him apart from other players around the league.
This season, he’s played up and down the Maple Leafs lineup – spending time on the Matthews line, the Tavares line and with Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall. And regardless of the line he plays with, it seems they find a way to be a force on a nightly basis – from defensive zone coverage to chipping in offensively.
A player with that kind of impact on a lineup, should be considered a core piece, and Hyman has played that role since day one of his NHL career.
A Special Teams Specialist
Hyman’s impact, however, extends far past even strength play. He’s spent time on both power play units as a net-front presence and has become a mainstay on the team’s penalty kill over his career.
In fact, when it comes to shorthanded goals over his career, he’s tied for 16th on the franchise list with seven alongside Dave Andreychuk, Bill Derlago, Doug Gilmour, Matt Stajan and Ron Ellis. As for the power play, he’s added another six goals with the man advantage with those 13 special teams goals making up for 15 percent of his career tallies.
As for what he’s done this season, Hyman has spent nearly 85 minutes on the ice for the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill with six shots and and eight attempts while a man down. On the power play, he’s played nearly 66 minutes with three goals and two secondary assists with an individual expected goals for of 3.25 over that span.
The idea that Hyman fits in anywhere in this lineup shows us just how valuable he can be. In fact, it was talked about in depth on episodes of Sticks in the 6ix podcast and THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge after there was chatter of Hyman being a long shot to make Canada’s Olympic team. And the majority agree – the Maple Leafs need to find a way to keep Hyman on the team past this season.
What Will it Take?
It won’t be easy to lock down Hyman when his contract is up. With so much tied up in their four top players and the lack of movement in the cap, the Maple Leafs will have to find a way to either make room or land Hyman at a team-friendly deal.
That said, with 33 points in 43 games this season, Hyman was on pace for a career-high in terms of points and points-per-game prior to his injury against the Vancouver Canucks. That alone will require the Maple Leafs to give him a respectable raise.
On top of that, with the Seattle Kraken joining the NHL to start the 2021-22 season, there is more reason why the Maple Leafs will have to find a way to secure Hyman as a core member of their team moving forward. There’s no doubt the Kraken will have eyes set on the Maple Leafs’ forward during the expansion draft and it’ll be up to his current club to find a way to make sure he stays in blue and white.
While the numbers aren’t clear right now, this could be one of the toughest negotiations for Kyle Dubas when it comes to free agency and his core players. Simply put, Hyman is a major part of this lineup in all aspects of the game. To lose him, would be a major hole for the Maple Leafs moving forward.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.