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Zach Hyman: ‘I want to be a Leaf for a long time’

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29: Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits on a face off against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29: Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits on a face off against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 29: Zach Hyman #11 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits on a face off against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 29, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Zach Hyman isn’t looking to translate his recent success into a massive payday from another organization.

The hard-working winger stated rather unequivocally in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon that his preference is to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs beyond next season when his contract is set to expire.

“I would love to stay in Toronto,” Hyman said. “It’s where I grew up. I want to be a Leaf for a long time.”

Under normal circumstances, the 27-year-old would ostensibly welcome a crack at unrestricted free agency as soon as possible. Hyman had been enjoying a career season with 21 goals and 37 points in 51 games despite a delayed start when completing the rehabilitation process on his surgically-repaired knee ligament.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down operations and throwing a wrench into the financial reality for the league and its teams, however, Hyman feels fortunate to have one more season remaining on his contract, and to have avoided having to iron out a new deal at such an unprecedented time in league history.

“Everything will probably be sorted out by then — with the cap and whatnot,” he said.

While the parameters will be established before Hyman must put pen to paper, there’s no escaping the fact that the shutdown on league operations will impact his negotiation, and likely diminish the leverage he’s earned. The Leafs are one of many teams with little wriggle room under the salary cap, and because the upper limit in payroll is tied to league revenue, it will be a challenge for teams like the Leafs to satisfy free agents if the boundaries remain relatively fixed.

Without question, Hyman deserves a substantial raise on the $2.25 million he’s earned annually over the last three seasons. While not the most talented skater on the roster, he might be the most consistent, and his contributions beyond his solid secondary scoring numbers simply can’t be understated.

How much it’s deemed to be worth will ultimately be up to Hyman and the Maple Leafs to decide, but it’s safe to assume he’ll have to leave money on the table to continue on with his preferred partnership.

‘New normal’

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced mostly everyone in the entire world to adjust their lifestyles, Hyman was getting used to what he called his “new normal.”

Hyman threw out that now-all-too-common term when reflecting on his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in last season’s playoff loss to the Boston Bruins, explaining that managing the impacts of the injury, the accelerated return to action, and the protective measures he had to take throughout the season had a considerable impact on him, and that he’s still managing the recovery process to this day.

As mentioned, it was hardly a detriment. Hyman was in the process of submitting his most productive season despite appearing in far fewer contests when the pandemic wiped away the remaining games on the league schedule.

If there is a silver lining to the NHL’s hiatus, Hyman says that it’s given him an opportunity to continue on with the healing process without having to manage the impact that games have on the health of the joint.

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