Have Maple Leaf Fans Turned on Nylander?

I feel sorry for William Nylander. I’m sure my opinion isn’t a popular one; still, I can’t help but think that he’s just a 22-year-old kid who must be incredibly frustrated with the lack of success he’s having on the ice. Things used to be much easier than they’ve been this year, and I’m sure he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Nor does anyone else.

I’m thinking that it must be tough for a kid to experience such a profound lack of success when success used to come more naturally.

Nylander’s not perfect. Sure, he postured and threatened and held out until the Toronto Maple Leafs capitulated with a huge $45 million contract. I’m thinking he was following the advice of counsel, but it did seem so entitled. Sure, his contract gives him the ability to afford lots of “toys” most of us will never play with. But, he’s an NHL hockey player and I’m a retired teacher. Still, I’m not slammed day-after-day in the media either.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Tyler Ennis: More Valuable Than Nylander?

I have to believe Nylander is doing his best, even though he’s certainly been on the ‘short end of the stick’ as far as scoring goes since he’s returned. Sadly, his lack of success, coupled with the current lack of team success, is quickly teaching Nylander that the fans can love you one day and want to run you out of town the next.

Attitudes Towards Nylander Have Changed

For Maple Leaf fans, the drama has lasted the entire year. During his contract negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nylander seemed to have a consistent level of support from Maple Leaf fans. Fans might not have liked what they perceived to be a self-focused attitude, but they always seemed to believe in his value to the team. In fact, in one of my early posts when I began covering the Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers, I suggested that perhaps an on-ice Tyler Ennis was more valuable to the team than an off-ice Nylander.

One reader disagreed and noted: “Nylander is a top-skilled player – to make any suggestion that Ennis is more valuable then Nylander is ridiculous.”

William Nylander
Toronto Maple Leafs’ William Nylander speaks to reporters in Toronto on Friday, April 27, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston)

In a Sportsnet interview last week, Nylander addressed his on-ice issues and spoke about blocking out the critical commentary from the media about his lack of production. When Mike Babcock was asked about the same topic, he made a point to discuss both the benefit and the difficulties of living in a hockey market such as Toronto.

Babcock also noted that sometimes the bad things people write about you reflect how you’re playing. He also noted that the Hunting Channel and Country Music were good distractions. “They don’t mention hockey at all,” he suggested.

The fans have seemed to turn on Nylander. While once supportive of him, they are no longer. As a specific example, in a recent post, I wrote that it might be time to trade hard-working, third-line Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri. I added that Nylander could move into the third-line center position a Kardi trade would vacate, which would give the team a solid offensive third line.

Related: Should the Maple Leafs Trade Nylander for Simmonds?

The reactions to that post were interesting. Fans’ comments soundly disagreed that Kadri should be traded, but they went further. Fans’ comments compared Kadri’s play favorably to Nylander’s. They also compared Nylander’s work ethic and team loyalty to Kadri’s. It’s no understatement to say that Kadri’s value to the team was seen as more pronounced by Maple Leaf fans than Nylander’s.

Surprising Fans’ Comments

To offer only a few of the comments, one fan said: “Do you really think that Nylander could replace Kadri at center on the third line fore-checking, and going into the corners? Don’t make me laugh. Nylander hasn’t done anything but float around the ice.”

Another suggested, “Trade Nylander, the most self-centered player in the NHL, NOT a guy who bleeds Leaf blue. Kadri was the guy who kept grinding it out all through the bad years, and there were plenty of them. Now he deserves a chance to win it all, something I doubt Nylander really cares about as long as he is being well paid.”

And that’s only two of several comments. You can read the rest on that post, above, if you’re interested.

Maple Leafs Minnesota Wild
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, blocks a shot by Minnesota Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek, while Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri helps. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

To summarize the comparisons, Nylander was seen as an inferior player, lacking talent, and self-centered. Kadri, on the other hand, was described as loyal, team-centered, long-serving, hard-working, and deserving. Certainly, these comments don’t represent all Maple Leaf fans, but it’s interesting to see the shift since Nylander’s signing. These comments, taken together, suggest that fans’ patience with Nylander is thin.

Things Might Change in a Score Sheet

Yet, fans’ perceptions of the young Maple Leaf winger might easily begin to change the first time Nylander scores a hat trick or leads his team to a comeback victory. I for one hope he does. And, I hope it happens soon.

Related: Is It Time for the Maple Leafs to Trade Kadri?

But tonight wasn’t the night. The Maple Leafs lost again 6-3 to a Colorado Avalanche team that came into town on a losing skid. Again, Nylander did not make the score sheet. I’m sure he’s had another frustrating night, wondering if the game of hockey will ever get back to what he remembers it used to be. Easier than now.