The Toronto Maple Leafs lost Zach Hyman, and you’d think it was comparable to the Cavaliers losing Lebron James the first time.
But it isn’t. Zach Hyman was a popular member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and an excellent player who will be missed. But most of what will be missed are intangibles. Leadership, friendship, the way he worked hard and led by example, and other things that come from his presence on the team as a human. These things will all be greatly missed, though on a pro team he would have to be one of the great dressing room guys in sports history for it to really cause a significant problem.
The on-ice stuff though? It won’t be a big deal.
Despite being a borderline star player, Zach Hyman’s absence isn’t going to hurt the Leafs much, if at all.
The Cost of the Toronto Maple Leafs Losing Zach Hyman
It is important to remember that, by far, Hyman’s biggest impact on the Leafs was 5v5 scoring. Playing with Matthews and Marner for most of his shifts, Hyman has some of the best 5v5 offense in the NHL (he’s in the 98th percentile over the last three years). (Note the @Jfresh chart).
That is great, but at the same time, he was 8th on the Leafs in 5v5 points per minute last year (minimum 20 games), and was not a key component of the power-play. Essentially, Hyman’s best attribute is offense and so is the Leafs’, meaning that what they lost – an offensive forward – was something from the place in which they are the strongest.
Also, Hyman’s only had really good defense in one of the last three years, and cannot be considered a “strong defensive player.”
In total, he was worth 0.9 wins last season, which might not sound like much, but in a league where 5 wins makes you the MVP, it’s a solid contribution. At the same time, however, it’s higher than Tavares’ (a player exactly no-one thinks Hyman is better than), and so that should make it clear that playing with Matthews and Marner gave Hyman quite a bump.
Ultimately, were Hyman to return to the Leafs and put up the same season as he had this past year (keeping in mind that he is probably overperforming to start with, a huge injury risk, and entering the age where players tend to start to decline) then the Leafs would stand to win one more game over the course of the season.
And that is without accounting for the fact that whatever player gets the prime spot on the left side of the Matthews / Marner line is bound to get the same bump that Hyman got.
If you think about it, of all the spots on the roster where you could spend money, the left wing slot next to Matthews and Marner is probably the single lowest priority. Those two, if healthy, are going to combine for 200 odd points no matter who they play with, so you might as well put your money where it’s going to make a bigger difference.
As for letting Hyman walk with no return, well, considering what they paid for a much worse Nick Foligno at the deadline, keeping Hyman for the playoffs was obviously the best use of assets, and the results of those playoffs are immaterial to whether or not it was a good bet at the time.
Ultimately, Hyman was great value for his $2 million-ish cap hit, but at just under triple his old salary, he wasn’t worth the money. He is primarily an offensive player, and a complimentary one at that. Whoever the Leafs play in his stead is likely to produce similarly.
The Oilers gave Hyman a terrible, David Clarkson-esque contract, and they will regret it. The Leafs lost their fifth most important forward, and 9th most important player (I’d rank Hyman ahead of Justin Holl, but behind the Leafs three star defenseman, as well as the goalie).
The perception is that losing Hyman and replacing him by committee will force the Toronto Maple Leafs to take a step back, but if you can separate the emotion out of it, it’s barely a loss at all since all they really lost was some extra offense which subtracts from the team’s biggest strength and which is highly likely to be provided by anyone playing with the Leafs two superstar forwards.