TORONTO (July 15) — After all the ancient heroes that have come to “die” with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of their careers, a local blueblood — still in his prime — will need to play elsewhere next season.
The mortal coincidence of Zach Hyman is another blight on this city’s National Hockey League ledger. For once, the Maple Leafs have a proud, homegrown warrior that sacrifices body and soul each night… and they can’t afford to keep him. Priced out of town by the managerial missteps that shackle a playoff also–ran, Hyman has been given permission to peddle his services around the NHL prior to becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of this month. It’s a move that neither party desires, nor controls. The Maple Leafs are devoid of the salary cap wherewithal to retain Hyman, and the player, at 29 years of age, needs to maximize an opportunity richly earned on behalf of the team. It’s a classic lose–lose situation… even if Hyman enters into a profitable arrangement and grows to enjoy his future destination; even if the bedeviled hockey club ultimately compensates for his departure.
Simply put: this shouldn’t have happened.
It’s a byproduct of all that hinders the Blue and White: the overcompensation of four players that have yet to prove distinctive in the clutch. Particularly Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, who gobble up nearly $22 million of the payroll limit, and may be viewed in a different light today with a bit more “Hyman” in them. As cornerstones of a prolific, fun–to–watch team in the regular season, they have withered over half–a–decade in the Stanley Cup spotlight — Matthews performing energetically, yet without his finishing touch; Marner mired in a statistical gorge to boggle the mind; displaying none of the creativity that precedes the championship chase. Now, they will move forward without the industrious line–mate whose penchant for barreling into the attacking zone creates so much of their time and space. Hyman is not a superstar, but he’s meshed so intrinsically with Marner and Matthews. Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe both experimented with alternate left–wingers, but always came back to Hyman. It’s now up to general manager Kyle Dubas to unearth someone more cap–friendly and economical, but with the same work–ethic; the same three–man coordination, and an ability to contribute 20 goals per season. Good luck.
Hyman also brought intangibles… to the city and the team.
Toronto has a large and august Jewish community, of which he’s a proud member, that numbers close to 200,000. Others of Jewish descent have played for the Maple Leafs — most–notably, Alex (Mine Boy) Levinsky, a key figure with the 1932 Stanley Cup champion (his nickname a product of his father, from the old country, sitting in Maple Leaf Gardens and shouting “that’s mine boy!”). Also, in alphabetical order, Mike Brown (right wing, 2010–11); Peter Ing (goalie, 1988–91); Brendan Leipsic (left wing, 2015–16); Mathieu Schneider (defense, 1995–98) and Trevor Smith (center, 2013–15). Hyman has distinguished himself by speaking eloquently on social issues.
After the mournful asphyxiation murder of black resident George Floyd last summer in Minneapolis, Hyman told the Toronto Sun: “I don’t know what it feels like to be judged based on color, but I do know what it feels like to be judged based on religion. I am Jewish and have experienced anti-Semitism, so I can empathize. For me, it’s pretty clear that racism and any type of judgment on religion or gender is not tolerant. In hockey, especially in today’s world, we are trying to make equality and inclusivity more of a possibility. I got married (last year), my wife (Alannah) and I are planning to have kids. You want your kids to grow up in a better world than in which you grew up.
“We need to work together toward that goal.”
“Zachary” Hyman has also authored several children’s books, including HOCKEY HERO, THE BAMBINO AND ME, and THE MAGICIAN’S SECRET. “I didn’t really expect much from writing,” Hyman told NHL.com in 2016. “I wasn’t trying to go out there and be an author. But it’s a big passion of mine and I just really, really enjoyed it, so once everything came together it was a no-brainer for me that I wanted to keep pursuing writing.”
It is on the ice, however, where Hyman will be tangibly missed. Some Leaf fans, as is custom, have begun rationalizing that a player nearing 30 and with knee issues is not worthy of likely doubling his $2.5 million salary.
Toronto hockey zealots are always willing to ease their pain, one way or another.
Then there was this scholarly remark on a chat forum: “I can’t believe that a guy who already comes from one of the wealthiest families in Toronto, and has made more than $10 million during his career, wants to go elsewhere for a few extra million, instead of taking a [home–town] discount and playing for his childhood team.”
Also: “This club can’t afford to overpay support players.”
Nothing about overpaying superstars who perform like support players when the stakes increase.
In the end, it’s just sad. And kind of typical.
The Boy genius has painted himself into a corner, hasn’t he? Can’t help but think that if Lou was still in charge, the Leafs wouldn’t be in this predicament.
No. They would have lost Marner to a competing offer or he would have sat the season thereby losing a season of A.M. worth. He will leave to go to Arizona and no Lou genius will stop it. Then trade him for what? You do not get equal talent back when trading a superior talent. I think Dubas did about as well as possible. He may have been able to negotiate a slightly lower salary but not signifigantly lower.
Hyman is a player that does what most players aren’t willing to do. I am going to miss him.
He’s a joy to watch, he’s gotten better every year, a trend that expect will continue.
In many ways Hyman was the transmission of this Leaf’s team. Very few people understand what a transmission does but without a transmission your car ain’t going anywhere. (I shamelessly stole this quote from Charles Oakley). You cannot judge everyone’s contribution to winning by looking at the score sheet. Blocked shots, plus/minus, corner work, and a bizarro ability to get puck back after loosing possession are necessary ingredients in playing winning hockey – Hyman excels in all those categories.
So much for hiring the cap expert, Dubas, and getting rid of the winning hockey expert: Lou L. Now, the cap expert has lost a top player, which should never have happened. It’s comical, people want Hyman to take a discount. I did not see the other two contemplate a hometown discount when they signed their multi-year contracts for millions. I believe Shanahan and Dubas should be removed immediately. Shanahan and Dubas say the right things to the media, but the results do not match. Leafs fans deserve better. Shanahan did not produce a winner in the 8 years he has been in charge. Time for the club to move on
Wouldn’t we be surprised if the Habs woo Hyman. He’d fit right in with his speed and tight checking style of play.
I read earlier this year in Steve Simmons column, in Auston Matthews first year in Toronto, he asked the coaching staff to remove Hyman from his line. Think that says a lot about Matthews. Zach is a great player. If only Matthews had half the heart Zach has.
If that’s the case, Dave, I’m sure Auston learned a lesson. He’ll miss Hyman.
Many people I discuss the Leafs with, find it difficult to understand why they cant hold on to players like Hyman. Watching players advance in their skills, value and worth over the years, leads to bewilderment as same players are ejected from the team, for cheaper alternatives to manage the top heavy cap.
I ask you, how do you sit in a dressing room, and look your teammates in the eye, knowing you held out for more money than perhaps you really deserved, and watch them pack and go, for the little that they are owed? How do the remaining struggling, entry level players process that they too will one day leave because of your big salary? I guess I am just pondering what the atmosphere in the room could be like, in this situation, especially when veteran superstars are playing for free (tax adjusted) and supporting Marlies players to boot. It must be a strange feeling to be a top wage player on the Leafs. Keep up the insightful writing Howard.
No one held out except Nylander. And, he at least earned some of his bread in the playoff round against Montreal.
You need a Jewish goalie for that Toronto lineup…how about Phil Stein…not in the NHL for a long time but for him at least it was a good time.
Overpaying for Travares is a free agent bidding war reality, overpaying Mathews very much feels like hiring an expensive out of towner hired gun and is understandable. Overpaying Marner is a sad reflection on management. Losing Hyman isn’t the end of the world but once again it speaks to the mismanagement of the roster by the GM. The Leafs will struggle to field a “playoff competitive” team until such time as we have management that realizes the regular season is not the same style of hockey as the playoffs. Tampa Bay figured that out after a couple of early round exists, Leaf management has yet to figure it out in 17 years. It’s gets tougher every year to keep being a die-hard Leaf fan.
Howard, I look forward so much to all of your columns. They brighten my week. Are you not getting ahead of the story a bit here? Hyman could still resign with the Leafs. That is still a possibility. Even though he can shop around, he seems to love it here. I just think it might be better to report something like this after the results are known.
It isn’t possible to give him $5 million and split the remaining 4-plus million over five roster spots. Not without making a move to engender cap space.
Shame on Dubas!
Brown and Hyman should be Leafs still.