It’s Go Time for William Nylander in 2019-20

Long, lavish hair, movie-star looks, money in the bank, God-given talent, and playing in the best league on the planet. What more could a 23-year old ask for? If you’re William Nylander, not a whole lot…but perhaps a Stanley Cup ring would be nice. 

Out of all the players in the National Hockey League, few are more eager to get the new campaign started than Nylander. Dating all the way back to April 2018, it’s been a whirlwind 16 months for the Canadian-born Swedish forward, playing in Toronto, the biggest hockey market in North America. A new season on the horizon and a potential clean slate could be just what the doctor ordered for Nylander, who’s coming off a nightmare season to forget.

Playing out his Entry-Level Contract

The end of the 2017-18 season saw Nylander’s Maple Leafs eliminated at the hands of the Boston Bruins, and as of July 1st, his entry-level contract (ELC) had also expired. A new deal was required on behalf of Mr. Nylander. Leafs fans knew that a deal was going to get done, especially from a player of his caliber after amassing back-to-back 60-point campaigns. But like every transaction in today’s NHL that’s scrutinized, second-guessed, and calculated because of the (hard) salary cap, Leafs Nation wondered… how much would he sign for (dollar amount) and for how long (term)? 

Summer came and went, and at the start of the 2018-19 NHL Season, Nylander remained unsigned. It was business as usual for Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock and the boys in blue and white as they kicked off their campaign, at home, against the Montreal Canadiens on October 3. Fast-forward eight weeks later, and Nylander’s contract dispute became an ongoing saga across the NHL landscape. A collective eyebrow raise fell over the hockey-mad city of Toronto, even though the team had been performing well on the ice.

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Saturday December 1, 2018: D-Day. A brisk winter day in the city of Toronto. As per the CBA rule-book, restricted free-agents who fail to be under contract by December 1 at 5 pm, must forfeit the season. #NylanderWatch was in full swing across the NHL, and “trending” in the masses across various social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram. Much to the joy (and heartache at the same time), Nylander and Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas were able to beat the clock, and ultimately agree on a deal at around 4:55pm EST. The terms of the deal? $45 million over six years. A deal that would pay Nylander over $10 million in year one, and $6.96 million from years two to six. The contract stalemate was over, and “Willie” was back for the Leafs. A collective breath was taken by Leafs nation.

Upon his return, it was obvious that Nylander was going to need some time to acclimate himself and get up to game speed. His first few steps, decision making, and finish were clearly off, but this was expected was it not? As days grew into weeks, and weeks into months, the “old” Nylander still seemed light years ahead. After the longest contract “holdout” in recent memory, things weren’t looking too good for Nylander both from a statistical standpoint and from the general eye-test.

In Nylander’s first 18 games played, he managed a total of one goal and two assists. In the midst of his slump, he openly admitted that this was unfamiliar territory for the talented winger and something that he was definitely not accustomed too early on in his NHL career. And how about the Maple Leafs’ postseason run? Well, for the second consecutive season, and the third time in the last seven seasons, the Leafs were beaten in seven games by the big bad Boston Bruins. Another premature spring for the blue and white who could not slay the proverbial dragons (Bruins). 

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At his year-end press conference proceeding the team’s locker “clean out” day, Leafs coach Mike Babcock didn’t mince words when describing Nylander’s lackluster play from the time he signed the contract until season’s end. The two-time Olympic Gold Medallist used phrases such as: “Getting back to Willy”, “Get out of here, get training, and “get his game back on track with swagger.” GM Kyle Dubas also openly admitted that the team didn’t exactly set him up for success. Harsh words all around from the Maple Leafs brass towards such an integral member of their hockey club.

New Season, New Nylander?

Heading into the 2019-20 season, Nylander has some added “pep in his step”. A fresh number change from 29 to 88 and a spot on a line with Auston Matthews should get him up and running come October. These are all good signs for Nylander who has always been so confident in his skill set and his abilities as a professional. His “swagger” so to speak has certainly emerged off the ice, as he openly stated he’s hopeful he can return to the dominant player that he was in his first couple of seasons. Which version of Nylander will we see in 2018-19? For the sake of Leafs Nation, let’s hope he has a monster bounce-back season for their beloved Maple Leafs.

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