There have been many positives for the first placed Maple Leafs this year, but Zach Hyman’s growth as a player has been one of the biggest. If you’ve been paying attention, you won’t be too surprised by how good Hyman has become. He scored 21 times in just 54 games last year and scored the same amount in 71 games in 18/19. Hyman has always been an absolute menace when retrieving pucks and cycling down low,
but he’s become great off the rush too.
When he first came into the league, he could be frustrating to watch. Although he always had his incredible work ethic, he often found himself blundering high-quality scoring chances or missing wide-open teammates on easy passes. To put it bluntly, he just wasn’t very skilled and an awkward skater. But if there is one thing the Leafs do well, it is develop young players, and Hyman was a willing learner.
The 28-year-old is 5th on the Leafs in points and 5th in individual xG. He also has a high danger shot share of 59.88% at five on five. His expected goals for share is also 3rd on the team behind William Nylander and Auston Matthews, pretty damn good. When Hyman plays with Matthews and Mitch Marner specifically, they are dominant. Out of all forward lines that have played at least 100 minutes together, the line is tenth in xGF% and first in xGF per 60 minutes. Hyman is effective anywhere down the lineup, though, and that’s what makes him so good. His line with Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev was a possession machine and would be the perfect third line for the Leafs if they can grab another top 6 winger, like say, I don’t know, Filip Forsberg?
In saying all of this, Hyman’s outstanding play has caused some to go overboard as to what the Toronto native will get this summer when his contract expires. I’ve seen some in the very level-headed, calm Toronto media say that Hyman could get up to 6 or even 7 million dollars a year.
Darren Dreger was also pushing for Hyman to get upwards of 6 million dollars a year on a radio hit last week, and it isn’t the first time Dreger has carried a Leafs players water during contract talks; see Marner, Mitch. Dave Poulin said Zach Hyman was the Leafs’ third most important forward during the Leafs-Jets game on Thursday to put the cherry on top. The Hyman Hype Train is in full effect, and it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
Look at the players that make $6 million a year, you’ve got guys like Dylan Larkin, Mark Scheifele and Jake Guentzel. Zach Hyman is objectively a few pegs below all of those players.
I think it’s important to remember a couple of things when looking at what Hyman’s next contract will look like. Firstly, COVID-19. Gary Bettman reminded all of us just a few days ago that the salary cap isn’t going to go up anytime soon. The biggest contract handed out to a forward last summer in total money was $4.25 million over four years for Tyler Toffoli.
Secondly, Finding contract comparables for a player like Hyman is hard. He’s pretty unique and even more unique on a team like the Leafs. The winger doesn’t put up a lot of points, but points can be overrated; goals, however, are not and Hyman, as good as he is, has scored at roughly a .25 goal per game rate throughout his career. He is an intelligent player and gets to great areas, so he’ll consistently score around 20 goals, but it’s hard to see him get much higher than that. Remember he is already 28; how much more can he really grow as a player?
Evolving-Hockey has Hyman’s next contract projected at $4.7 million a year over three years, and it’s hard to argue with that. The Leafs’ front office of yesteryear may have overpaid players because of intangibles, but Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shannahan do not.
Lastly, this is Zach Hyman we’re talking about, he loves Toronto just as much as the fans love him, and the fans love him a lot! It may be wishful thinking to think he’ll take a hometown discount, but I know he wants to be here, and I don’t think he needs a ton of money to validate what he brings to the team. He’s always saying how much he wants to win and although it’s unfair that he should be the one to bite the metaphorical bullet, he can blame the pandemic for losing out on a few hundred K
So as good as Hyman has been this year, and especially the last few games, let’s not get too reactionary in terms of what he actually is as a player. He kills penalties, he’ll score roughly once every four games, maybe more, maybe less, and he brings energy to the Leafs lineup every night. In today’s NHL, that gets you around $5 million dollars, and if Zach Hyman gets that, I think all parties will be happy.