Toronto Maple Leafs: Michael Bunting Will Be the Steal of Free Agency

Michael Bunting, Arizona Coyotes (Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)
Michael Bunting, Arizona Coyotes (Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs might have found some gold in the bargain Bin.

This off-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs concentrated on signing free agents from what I would call the “value menu.”  Fans always love to see the big signings (We all went nuts when the Leafs signed John Tavares in 2018), but this season we knew they weren’t going to land Dougie Hamilton or Gabriel Landeskog when they couldn’t even re-sign Zach Hyman.

Part of the Leafs salary cap strategy is contingent on their confidence in being able to find value players like Alex Galchenyuk or Ilya Mikheyev. In addition, Petr Mrázek, Nick Ritchie and David Kämpf will all add great value to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I’m going to bet that at some point during this season, we’re going to truly appreciate how much the Michael Bunting signing boosts this team.

Every player acquisition is a gamble.  Doling out big bucks for big names takes on a lot of risk.  However, the Michael Bunting signing is a gamble with very low risk and a very high potential reward.

Who is Michael Bunting?

There are a few ways to look at Michael Bunting.  I see him as a late bloomer who hadn’t been given a chance until last season because he’s slightly under-sized and many not have the skill to drive a play at the NHL level.  However, he also seems to be a player that can pile pucks into the net when he’s given the chance to play with talented players.

At a young age, Bunting was held back from joining a high level hockey team because of financial reasons but excelled at high school hockey.  He was given a golden opportunity to play AAA Midget hockey for the Don Mills Flyers of the GTHL after they worked out a payment plan.  After scoring nearly a goal per game for Don Mills, Bunting was drafted into the OHL by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (by current Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Kyle Dubas) 160th overall and played for them that season, which was also his NHL draft year!

In his first OHL season, Bunting put up 42 points in 48 games which was good enough for the Arizona Coyotes to draft him in the fourth round (117th overall).  He led the Greyhounds with 37 goals in 57 games during his second OHL season while putting up 74 points.  He then spent the majority of the next 6 seasons playing in the AHL where he played great hockey, but wasn’t given much opportunity at the NHL level until last season.

The 2020-21 AHL season started off marvelously for Michael Bunting.  In 16 games he scored 7 goals and had 19 points.  Bunting finally got his shot in the NHL when he was called up by the Coyotes to cover for an injury and was placed with talent on their second line .  Bunting exploded with 10 goals in 21 games as a 25 year-old rookie. That’s a pace of 39 goals in an 82 game season! (Stats

Worst Case Scenario for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Maybe Bunting just had a lucky run with the Coyotes last season.

It’s a small sample size.  Maybe he doesn’t have the same spark at the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp.  Maybe he doesn’t make the team and spends the entire season with the Marlies.  That’s the worst case scenario.  Even if that’s Bunting’s fate, because he’s signed to a deal with a $950k AAV his entire salary will be buried and won’t count against the Leafs cap.  It would be sad to see Bunting toiling in the minors, but it’s not going to break the team.

Best Case Scenario

Micheal Bunting could be on the Toronto Maple Leafs top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and he could score 30+ goals.

Bunting isn’t the type of superstar talent that can control the play, score end-to-end goals or be the leader of his line, but he plays hard, creates space, has great net front presence, can bury in close and has the smarts to know where to be.

He can’t do it all himself, but he can finish.  Bunting may not be an elite puck carrier, but he can get to an opening to bury a pass from someone like Mitch Marner.  Matthews can score from a distance, but Bunting could be the guy to bury his rebounds. He could be the next… Rob Brown!  Am I dating myself with that reference?  How about Jonathan Cheechoo?  Michael Bunting could be the Dennis Rodman of hockey’s greatest line!  Anyway, it takes a special kind of player to play with top end talent when you may not have top end talent yourself, and that’s what the Toronto Maple Leafs really need right now.

Next. Who Will Replace Zach Bogosian on the Leafs Blueline?. dark

How amazing would it be if Michael Bunting out scored Zach Hyman this season and for only $950k?  We’ll have to wait and see.