Leafs got some bittersweet news this week. After reportedly matching the team’s longest losing streak in franchise history, the NHL made it clear that that was not true. No they didn’t win a game when no one was looking, rather since the team managed to record a point during their 10-game skid, during a shootout loss to New Jersey on January 28, it doesn’t count as a losing streak. Rather it is recorded as a winless streak, not that it makes things much better.
The change in the stat doesn’t change the fact that the team continues to struggle. The Buds extended their winless streak to 11 games Friday with a 4-1 loss to the Devils. With 29 games left the season is unofficially over, in fact the Leafs would need to have an outstanding finish to the season if they wanted to even compete for a Wild Card spot in the East.
Leafs Season is Done
The Maple Leafs are currently on pace for 74 points this season, though this number could be skewed due to a strong start to the season and considering the team hasn’t won a game in nearly a month, January 9. Currently the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins hold down the final two Wild Card spots, while the Washington Capitals just moved out of the top Wild Card spot with a win Friday.
The Rangers are on pace for 107 points this season meanwhile the Capitals are on pace for 100 points and the Bruins are expected to finish just behind them with 98 points. In fact even the Florida Panthers who are the next closest team to grabbing a Wild Card berth are on pace for 91 points. In fact if the Leafs want to hit 100 points this season they would have to win 26 of their next 29 games.
Time to Give Nylander a Shot
Trade rumours have surrounded the team lately and though nothing is carved in stone it seems the likes of Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik, and David Booth won’t be with the team next season or possibly following the trade deadline while essentially no one on the roster is safe.
With that in mind the team must already start looking towards the future. One possible option could be use the rest of this season to give some of their rookies, who will likely be big parts with the team, more ice-time and experience.
Is it time to give William Nylander his first taste of the NHL? The Leafs first round pick last year, was brought back to Toronto by the club following his impressive outing at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The 18-year-old had 10 points in seven games for Sweden and has since joined the Toronto Marlies.
— CBC Toronto (@CBCToronto) January 12, 2015
Nylander has played just six games so far with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate and has a goal and an assist. When the team announced that the 2014 eighth overall pick would be coming back from Sweden, they made it clear that the plan was to have Nylander play with the Marlies to get him used to the North American style of game.
The right-hander played the majority of the season with MODO of the Swedish Elite League where he had 20 points in 21 games with the team while playing against men. The Leafs sent him to Sweden for that reason following the
With the Leafs in freefall and no sign of slowing down, why not put the youngster into the Buds’ lineup? With a near guarantee to miss the playoffs the pressure shouldn’t be too high for Nylander. The Marlies are currently also on pace to miss the playoffs this season, so if a playoff run for the team was also part of the thought process to keep him in the AHL, it can be forgotten. If the team’s plan was to help get him used to the North American style of game, he could also do just that playing with the big club.
Move Should Come Post-Trade Deadline
The implementation of Nylander into the lineup would again be best suited after the trade deadline or players are moved. If the Leafs want to make trades they will need to try and show off those available and for the Leafs that could be any player on the roster. And though some experience in the big leagues could be ideal for Nylander, he has played the majority of his career on the extended ice surface and has just six games under his belt with the Marlies as mentioned before. A little more time with the club wouldn’t hurt at all and would make the transition to the Maple Leafs that much smoother.
The team for years has been lacking a number one centre and given the opportunity and the continued growth of Nylander, he looks to have the skill to have the potential to fill that void. With nothing to lose this season it might be the right time to get the Leafs future star NHL ready.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.