As fans prepare to face the reality that Zach Hyman will be in a different jersey at the start of next season, owning an objective perspective towards his departure from the Toronto Maple Leafs should make the news easier to digest. It’s not to discount the heart, will, or drive he’s had on full display with the Maple Leafs. Yet, assessing his actual impact paints a bit of a different picture.
Of course, it will be tough to watch Toronto part ways with one of their most passionate pros. However, supporters need to take a step back and think outside of their emotions. Hyman is not the only athlete capable of performing the functions that became his norm throughout the years. Just because he’ll be missed doesn’t mean he’s irreplaceable.
Deserved Fan Favourite
First and foremost, to be clear, this isn’t in an effort to diminish Hyman’s reputation as one of the hardest-working players in Toronto since joining the organization in 2015. He’s done more than what’s been asked of him, played in the shadows cast by a multitude of personalities, and surpassed expectations along the way.
Although he’s been shuffled through the Maple Leafs’ lineup the past few seasons, Hyman has continually found a way to elevate both his own play and that of those he’s been aligned with. As evidenced by a continual increase in his per-game ice time and point tallies over the past six years.
Hyman has exemplified what it means to possess the intangibles. Even when his name didn’t appear on the scoresheet, his impact was felt in positive ways. By forcing into the areas his teammates worked to avoid, Hyman welcomed his role as a secondary character to those that took advantage of the scoring chances he generated.
Onlookers who have watched beyond the highlight-reel know that his work ethic has been invaluable towards making the Maple Leafs better than they were before he began to bleed blue.
Playoff Production Matters
It goes without saying that production is a necessary component to achieving at the highest level in this league. While the Maple Leafs have seemingly benefited from having Hyman in their lineup, it’s no secret that they have yet to reach the pinnacle of success with him there. That’s not to suggest it’s his fault, but more so a reflection on the fact that losing his presence could lead to different results.
Like many of his Toronto colleagues, Hyman has had a tougher time proving his worth when it’s mattered most — the playoffs. While it’s a collective that either comes out on top or is sent home early, the individual pieces of the puzzle must play their part.
Despite achieving a career-best postseason Corsi for percentage of 55.4 against the Montreal Canadiens, a misalignment between his possession and production contributed to Toronto’s disappointing First Round loss. Unfortunately, owning the puck is merely a prerequisite to creating and capitalizing with it. Tied for his lowest point totals in the playoffs to date, one goal through six-games just wasn’t enough.
Frankly, it’s almost worse to consider how his analytics align, as the metrics should have suggested that he accomplished much more than he did. Yet, he failed to. The eye test furthered that observation, as his conversion rate on breakaways and net-front chances just didn’t add up in Toronto’s favour.
Finding a Fiscal Fit
This wouldn’t be as much of a discussion point if Hyman was looking to mirror his most recent contract. Four years at $2.25 million per is the type of deal that helps workhorses like Hyman stand out for all the right reasons, given the financial flexibility that comes alongside an unmatched effort.
However, he’s hoping for a raise and a substantial one at that. Set to become an unrestricted free agent, Hyman deserves the ability to seek whatever he wants.
With that said, it’s just not possible for the Maple Leafs to provide it and fans need to come to terms with that.
“So at that point I think it was fairly clear to us internally, based on the discussions and where they had been or even the feeling on it, that he was going to be on the move,” Dubas said. “You know, we had done what we could to try to make it work, and unfortunately we couldn’t.
“Everyone knows how we feel about Zach here, and even though it won’t be here, we are happy for him.”
You can choose to blame his Toronto teammates for forcing a reality that makes it next to impossible to reward players like Hyman with a raise. However, it’s business. Even those who now make top-dollar with the club, like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, were once in the same position of having to negotiate their next agreement.
Whether due to advantageous timing or a case of more coveted talent, those still in Toronto have simply been more successful at striking the right type of deal with the franchise.
The fact is, Hyman has worked hard and deserves to be in the driver’s seat to navigate his career in whichever direction he chooses. Rather than feeling stuck in downtown traffic, hitting the open road where he’ll get paid what he’s worth for years to come makes for a much smoother journey.
Replicating the Impact
While it may currently seem like this will leave an unfillable void in the Maple Leafs’ locker room, that’s just not the case. Far from being a disrespectful observation, Hyman isn’t the type of player that one would refer to as generational. That doesn’t make his importance any less relevant, it just means there are more out there like him as opposed to the few elite in today’s game.
As such, there are others who can bring forth their own approach to replicate what Hyman did so well in a Maple Leafs sweater. What’s more, is that many are up for renewal this offseason anyway.
Kyle Dubas will have to be cognizant of his cap situation, especially if his goal is to acquire via free agency as opposed to a trade-off of financials. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dubas could secure discounts to such a degree that Toronto turns the loss of one Hyman into a gain of multiple replacements.
Better yet, that necessary presence might already exist within the organization. With an opportunity to re-allocate minutes throughout the roster, you never know which prospect might step up in ways beyond expectation. After all, that’s the same type of storyline that helped propel Hyman into the player he’s now become.
Thank You, Zach
Again, there is no debate that Hyman brought a level of life to the Maple Leafs that few others have in recent years. He should be credited for infusing such passion and thanked profusely for his efforts.
With that said, as Hyman looks ahead to a new opportunity that will offer up a brighter spotlight, the Maple Leafs need to shift their focus towards filling the void he leaves behind. There will be change and it’s up to supporters to welcome whatever that looks like with open arms. In order to do so, fans need to loosen their collective grip on Hyman and the idealistic thoughts of what he represents.
Plus, Dubas has been clear with his messaging that this team is all-in to win. Who’s to say this move won’t set off a ripple effect that results in a more effective recipe for the Maple Leafs? It may seem bleak at the moment, in bidding farewell to a fan favourite, but anticipating better things ahead and letting that plan unfold may be a foolproof way to heal.
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All isn’t lost as a result of Hyman’s departure. In fact, this could force a necessary shake-up to Toronto’s strategy, unlocking new levels of success only made possible because he moved on. Time will tell.