William Nylander’s Success Means Unclear Future in Toronto

Last night, William Nylander had a great game in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-4 overtime win against the Florida Panthers. Between his determined play and goalie Ilya Samsonov’s perfection in facing and stopping the 11 shots on his net, both played key roles in the team’s victory. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Samsonov relieved a struggling Matt Murray, who had given up four goals on only eight shots. His play allowed his team to come back to restore a tie score and then the overtime game-winning goal scored by, you know who, Nylander.

Nylander Scored Two Goals in the Team’s Victory

Nylander scored two even-strength goals, including the overtime winner. He also added a power-play assist. He got credit for the game-tying goal early in the third period after a Mitch Marner shot bounced off Sergei Bobrovsky’s pad, off Nylander’s helmet, and over the Panthers’ goalie into the net. 

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Chalk that up to good karma after Nylander had flubbed a penalty shot not more than five minutes earlier. However, his overtime winner was not a fluke. In one of his patented moves — fans saw almost the same goal on Dec. 27 during the overtime against the St. Louis Blues — Nylander began a rush at his own blue line. Then, he turned on his speed to beat all three Panthers’ defenders. Finally, he snuck the puck inside the post after beating Bobrovsky with a fake. Perhaps the Panthers’ goalie had been watching film because Nylander had gone backhand against Jordan Binnington to win the Blues’ game.

Nylander’s Been Feast and Famine on the Scoresheet Recently

It’s worth noting that Nylander has been up and down on the scoresheet; however, on the whole, he’s had an amazingly solid season. Still, he’s been inconsistent in his recent games. Over his last 10 games, he’s hit the scoresheet only four times. However, in all four games, he registered multiple-point performances. 

Over that 10-game stretch, he’s scored three goals and added seven assists (for 10 points). That’s a solid point-per-game performance and, on the season, Nylander has now totalled 50 points in 45 games. He’s making a big impact in the games where he scores.

Nylander’s Play Has Been Crucial to Maple Leafs Wins This Season

A number of Nylander’s performances have been game-changers, which was the case last night. In short, without his exploits there would have been no Maple Leafs’ comeback victory. Scoring his 24th goal of the season is a testament to his offensive ability and the fact that, even if he doesn’t hit the scoresheet, he’s given great effort all season long. 

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In fact, that’s exactly what Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game when he met with the media. His comment about his team’s 5-4 win over the Panthers was that Nylander “was the difference-maker for us, and that is more the player he’s been for us all season.”

After Nylander’s Career Season (Thus Far), Now What?

Nylander had a great game last night by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, but also by tying the game with the third period’s only goal. He also assisted on Auston Matthews’ power-play goal. His goals were keys to the Maple Leafs’ comeback victory. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But that should be no surprise. Nylander has been consistently good this season and his performance in this game is just one example of that consistency. He’s been engaged every game, he’s been determined, and he has carried the offence. Game in and game out, he’s helping his team win. 

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He’s a valuable player on this team and might now actually be hitting his prime. It’s clear that he’s becoming an elite player and is setting himself apart from other good players.

What Does That Mean for Nylander’s Next Contract?

In the past, a number of Maple Leafs fans wanted Nylander traded. There are probably some who believe he’ll revert to what they think are his past “lazy” tendencies. But the Maple Leafs as an organization will disagree.

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Nylander’s contract expires after the 2023-24 season. Given his performances this season, the question remains about what kind of contract his play will inspire during the 2024 offseason. Obviously, that’s a long way off and much can happen between now and then.

William Nylander, Morgan Reilly
Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammate William Nylander. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hans Deryk)

But the question is an interesting one. Should he continue the positive career trajectory he’s currently on, his contract will likely be a big one. And, it’s one he deserves given his elite play. However, that’s a question that Nylander and the organization will sit down to discuss in about 16 months.