Toronto Maple Leafs: Is the William Nylander criticism justified?

Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) dekes around Ottawa Senators forward Tim Stutzle (18). (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) dekes around Ottawa Senators forward Tim Stutzle (18). (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports) /

For the longest time, it seems like Toronto Maple Leafs fans and media have had countless debates and arguments about players and the ongoing one with William Nylander continues to rage on in a big way.

It’s no secret that Nylander’s style of play isn’t the flavour for some especially because he isn’t physical or doesn’t look “engaged” on the ice. Then there are those who will point to his production especially his advanced stats and would argue otherwise.

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This season, it seems like we are seeing this debate reach a boiling point and it probably won’t be going away anytime soon. The real question here is figuring out which side holds the better argument.

Unfortunately, as it is with most debates nowadays, both sides seem stubborn to the point where they cannot see that there is common ground to be made. This is where I hope to knock down the wall and build a bridge to this Nylander debate.

It’s easy to pick on Nylander’s lack of production during a slump especially when Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have been dominating this season. At the same time, to say he’s being unfairly criticized is a bit of a stretch too.

Nylander broke a six-game pointless slump with a pair of points against the Ottawa Senators in one of his more noticeable efforts of the season. Even he admitted after the game that there is still a ways to go for his line.

This is something that has been left out of the Nylander criticism by some because as he’s been singled out during his slump. There certainly is some blame to be shared with the lack of production with him and John Tavares at 5-on-5.

Not long ago, TSN’s Ray Ferraro explained that the Leafs’ second line has struggled to establish the cycle in the offensive zone. Part of that likely had to do with Zach Hyman moving to the top line after Joe Thornton’s injury and Sheldon Keefe struggling to find a suitable replacement.

Much like Thornton has elevated Matthews and Marner, Hyman is in a position to do the same for Tavares and Nylander. Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens could provide some insight into whether Hyman was the missing link.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Will the narrative with William Nylander ever change?

It’s tough to see a world where the Leafs fans who can’t accept Nylander’s style of play will suddenly have a revelation. Really, they just want to see him traded for something that they think will help Toronto win a Stanley Cup.

Realistically, if the Leafs were offered a trade for Nylander that makes them better, there isn’t a reason why the team shouldn’t consider it. At this stage, there are a handful of players on this team that would be deemed untradeable and unfortunately, I wouldn’t put Nylander in that category.

To be clear, I don’t follow the school of thought that suggests the Leafs should trade Nylander for a defenceman just because his contract is easier to move. My thought process is that if a team is interested in Nylander and is willing to offer a player of comparable value, how do you say no?

I still think that a trade involving Nylander wouldn’t happen during the season considering the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents. Kyle Dubas has been a clear supporter of Nylander but he’s also made it known that he will make a move that will help the Leafs get closer to a Stanley Cup.

That doesn’t mean trading Nylander is the answer because it’s easy to single him out and it’s tough to justify putting him on the chopping block when the Leafs are first in the North Division.

At the same time, he isn’t free of criticism and constantly trying to defend him will get exhausting especially when someone’s bias isn’t going to be changed easily.

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What are your thoughts on the criticism Nylander faces? Is it justified and should people keep trying to defend him? Let us know in the comments below.