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Zach Hyman will be signed by the Oilers

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The deal is one the Leafs could never have even considered.

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Zach Hyman will be an Oiler, maybe this afternoon. He made the only move he could to end up with a better centre than he had most of the time on the Leafs.

Hyman came to the Leafs in a trade for Gregg McKegg after Hyman had a huge points year in the NCAA. Because he did that playing with Dylan Larkin, and moved onto the Leafs after part of one season in the AHL just in time to play with Auston Matthews, he has often been written off as a man riding the coattails of better players.

In Hyman’s first full NHL season, he had a very poor shooting percentage, which has also led to the theory that he improved his shot in some mysterious way. That he was just a depth guy, and suddenly he emerged as a valuable complementary player. In reality, he never was a depth guy, and he played with Matthews full time the second the Leafs stopped tanking.

He also has one year where his shooting percentage was higher than average, but over his career, it looks exactly like normal fluctuations around an average that is above average for forwards. Net-front shooters nearly always have good shooting results and if they take a lot of shots they get goals. They’re tapping in rebounds, participating in heavy scrums, and getting what get called garbage goals. The other meme with Hyman is that he gets tonnes of empty-net goals. Of course, you have to be chosen to hold the lead to be on the ice to get those.

The truth is that Zach Hyman has always been the man who will take the garbage out without you asking. He is going to the net, that’s his value. When he’s not doing that, he’s digging in the corners retrieving pucks. As a player who plays a fully engaged game with no minutes off, he’s often seen as generically “gritty” and that is always assumed to be a player whose value is defensive. Hyman’s value is nearly all offensive, and on the offence-first Leafs (and now the Oilers) he’s allowed to get the most out of his skills.

Many teams have tough, physical net-driving forwards. Very few teams have anyone as good as him doing it. Because his skill is not a neat wrister, and because he’s not a small, fast skater, everyone will feel this deal is an overpay.

And it is!

All UFA deals are overpays, but in the rush to name it a joke on the joke team in Edmonton, and downplay dramatically Hyman’s value to sell the LOLOILERS bit, Leafs fans are understating the size and shape of the hole left on the Maple Leafs top six.

The first thing Kyle Dubas has to do is find a goalie, and for all the concern over who is the third-line centre, the biggest problem he has is the top-six wingers. Dubas now needs two and some understudies, and he doesn’t have Hyman money to do it with. Hyman will crash the net in Edmonton while Connor McDavid glides around making whoever is on the right wing look like a superstar.

And the Leafs? Mitch Marner will glide around passing the puck to Auston Matthews, who will be... where? At the circles taking one-timers? Doing his own net-crashing? And if he is out at the circles, then who and where is the left wing, and can Marner and Matthews make him look better than he is? I think Zach Hyman was good on his own, not just shining in the glow of his teammates. And whoever has to fill his skates is in for a tougher job than most people expect.

Nazem Kadri is gone, James Van Riemsdyk is gone and now Zach Hyman has left the building. Those days of a lush and talented middle-class on the Leafs buoyed up by all that raw skill on ELCs are over. Over for good. The money and the expectations rest with the core four. And now it’s up to Kyle Dubas to flesh out the team with a the very small nest egg left with the departure of Hyman and Andersen.

This next week will decide the nature of the Maple Leafs for at least the next year.