We look at three things that were uncovered about the Toronto Maple Leafs as a result of their disappointing play-in series loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who entered their play-in series with the Columbus Blue Jackets as favourites. Regardless, the Leafs’ 2019-20 season is over following their disappointing 3-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday.
As we wrote following the stunning 4-3 comeback win on Friday night, we had no confidence or conviction in predicting how the Leafs would perform in the decider. However, deep down most people probably expected more than they ended up showing with their season on the line.
Thoughts will now turn to what could have been and how the Leafs need to improve moving forward. In this respect, let’s count down three things we learned during the play-in series with the Blue Jackets:
3) Renewed concerns about William Nylander come to the surface.
Let’s be clear in acknowledging William Nylander is an excellent talent who is arguably one of the best skaters in the entire NHL and still has some upside. Regardless, the series with Columbus renewed underlying concerns about him.
When Nylander signed his six-year, $41.77 extension towards the end of 2018, critics believed it was too much. This criticism only increased when he went on to score just 27 points (seven goals and 20 assists) in 54 regular season games, while also recording a career-worst -4 plus/minus rating.
In fairness to the 24-year-old he rebounded in excellent style this season, finishing with a career-best 31 goals despite only playing 68 regular season games and generally displaying more confidence. However, this work was all undone during the play-in series.
It doesn’t matter that Nylander was tied for the second-most points on the Leafs during the five games. (Four points, including two goals.) There were too many occasions during the series when he went missing in games.
The 2014 eighth overall draft pick is simply not physical or strong enough (although you can also level this critique at a number of his teammate). He still needs to improve his work ethic without the puck.
There will be those who might argue Nylander wasn’t given enough opportunities to succeed, ranking only eighth among all Leafs skaters, and fifth amongst the forwards in average ice time. However, it was his aforementioned penchant to go missing which influenced this.
Overall, Nylander is the most dispensable of the Leafs ‘Big Four’ as they will need to make changes to improve (even more so with the salary cap set to be frozen at $81.5 million until the NHL’s revenue situation is resolved). He might be behind Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner in his annual average salary, but he is still arguably the most overpaid of the four.