Nylander, Marner upping the ante for Maple Leafs

Well, there go the savings.

There was a time, just a couple of months ago, that the Maple Leafs might have consoled themselves with the sophomore struggles of William Nylander and Mitch Marner by at least imagining they would cost the club a few million dollars less when the time came to negotiate the second contract of their NHL careers.

But those dreams are fading. Or gone. The two kids, the 21-year-old Nylander and the 20-year-old Marner, are heating up, shaking off their slumping ways of October and November to again assert themselves as dangerous and developing NHL scorers.

They’re not going to cost the Leafs what the team’s next captain, Auston Matthews, is going to cost when he does his new deal, likely at the end of this season. That negotiation is going to start around $12 million per, you’d have to think.

Nylander and Marner won’t get that. The overall stats still aren’t what they’d like them to be because of their autumn struggles. But Marner lit up the Senators on Saturday, and Nylander did him one better on Monday night, sniping two brilliant goals and adding an assist against the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 Toronto triumph.

It was a terrific game, as long as some sandpaper isn’t a necessary ingredient in your preferred brand of hockey. This was about speed and skill and more speed, with the amount of contact kept to a minimum. The more irritability and physicality leaves the game, the more you wonder what is going to replace it. But my goodness, the skill is breathtaking.

When Marner started the season with two goals in 34 games and Nylander had four in his first 26 outings, there was legitimate concern. Not that they weren’t good players, but that the league was figuring them out, or leaning on them a little harder.

Nylander had another slump over December and January. But of late, they’ve both started looking speedy and creative again. Marner has found a new playmate in Nazem Kadri and has four goals and four assists in his last five games.