On Christmas Day, the Toronto Maple Leafs are tied for second place in the NHL with 48 points. The season has gone better than most fans believed it would during the offseason when so many problems seemed to loom that were difficult to fix.
Part of the season’s success was due to the two goalies the Maple Leafs picked up during the offseason. Both Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov have been better than they showed last season. They have also proven to be far from the reclamation projects most fans feared would sooner or later crash and burn. They are among the NHL leaders in goalie statistics.
Both Mitch Marner and William Nylander Have Had Good Seasons
Another reason for the Maple Leafs’ success has been that both Mitch Marner and William Nylander are having solid seasons. In fact, Nylander is having a career season. It’s by far his best season thus far in his career.
As we stand right now, Nylander is riding a three-game, goal-scoring streak. In the team’s last game, he scored a goal and added two assists as the Maple Leafs beat the Philadelphia Flyers last Thursday afternoon. On the season, Nylander has scored 20 goals and added 19 assists. His 39 points in 34 games are second on the team in scoring (tied with Auston Matthews).
Marner is proving once again to be no slouch either. Marner currently is on a 14-game home point-scoring streak. He had two points (a goal and an assist) in the victory over the Flyers last Thursday. In those 14 games, he’s collected 21 points (on five goals and 16 assists.) Marner’s 40 points (on 13 goals and 27 assists) lead the Maple Leafs.
So, Who Is Better This Season? Marner or Nylander?
Because both are close in scoring and both are valuable to the team, it seemed like Christmas Day would be a good time to ask which player is more valuable to the team this season. Both are key to the Maple Leafs’ success thus far; and, as a matter of fact, cases can be made for either player as having a better season than the other.
Starting with Nylander, what is the case for his value to the team? I will second take a look at Marner, making a case for his value to the team.
The Case for William Nylander
A case can be made that Nylander is evolving into the Maple Leafs’ second-bast player. It would be tough to argue against Matthews as the most valuable player on the Maple Leafs’ roster – and I won’t. In my mind, Matthews is clearly at the top of the heap.
Many Maple Leafs’ fans believe that Nylander is the second-most talented player and currently the second-best player after Matthews on the team. His success has a lot to do with Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s decision to partner him on the first line with Matthews and the pesky Michael Bunting.
In a recent post on The Hockey Writers, reader Andrew made a case for both Nylander’s and Marner’s value. When compared with Marner, Andrew believed Nylander was the faster skater, the better shooter, and the better puck carrier. Nylander can absolutely wind up, circle back, and bring the puck into the team’s offensive zone with great speed and control.
In addition, Nylander can play center if needed and has put together a better-than-average 50 percent record in the face-off circle over his career. Nylander is becoming a better defensive player and has become very good at stick checks.
The Case for Mitch Marner
But it’s tough not to be persuaded by Marner’s franchise-record points-in-consecutive game journey that ended at 23 games in a row against the New York Rangers. It’s persuasive, and some fans believe it’s one reason that Marner is more valuable than Nylander.
Also, compared with Nylander, Marner is better at skating in tight spaces. He’s also more adept at making good passes in tight spaces. Marner is also the better 200-foot player.
On the defensive end of the ice, Marner’s valuable both on the penalty kill and in five-on-five because he’s amazing at reading the passing lanes and is good at picking off open-ice passes. He’s also a strong shot blocker.
Other Thoughts About Marner and Nylander
In some ways, both Marner and Nylander have been polarizing players for many fans. Marner’s stock has risen, fallen, and then risen again. He was the team’s golden boy when he was on his cheap, entry-level contract. However, the negotiations he and his agent Darren Ferris engaged with the Maple Leafs’ organization soured him with many fans. His recent point streak has helped him move back into a good space with fans.
Nylander has grown more defensively capable and (even) more physical in the past few seasons. At one time, more than now, he was seen as floating around the perimeter waiting for an offensive chance. Many fans believed he wouldn’t go into the tough spaces on the ice or risk physical engagement.
Some fans believe Nylander should be judged by his lack of effort in not negating an icing penalty in the postseason against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s their litmus test.
However, to my mind, Nylander’s lack of physicality is not so true any longer. Nylander has also improved his reputation with other Maple Leafs’ faithful. The calls for trading him have silenced for the most part. Although there are fans who remain unconvinced and believe that – given time – Nylander will fall back into old habits, most fans are coming to see Nylander as far too maligned.
What’s the Bottom Line?
The fact is that both Nylander and Marner are exceptional players. Both have different skill sets, and both remain valuable. As it stands right now, Marner’s contract is huge compared with Nylander’s. Perhaps, $10.903 million vs. $6.963 is the biggest difference in their respective values. And in today’s salary-capped era, $4 million is a big difference.
Both players are valuable to the team. It would simply be clickbait to diss one player to prop up the other’s value – either side you choose. Some fans believe Marner does much more than Nylander at both ends of the ice. Others believe that Nylander’s skills and drive now make him the second-best player on the team.
My Choice Between Marner and Nylander?
If I had to pick who was the most valuable, the tipping point is the value of the contracts. For me, $4 million is the biggest difference. I would vote for Nylander.
That said, both are great players. Each does different things well. My bottom-line assessment is that the Maple Leafs are fortunate to have both of them.