Breaking Down the Comparison
To be fair to Hyman, the he was the Leafs fifth best forward and maybe their ninth most important player overall (after the Big Four, Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin and Campbell) but on the Oilers he’s supposed to be like their third or fourth best player, and this makes the comparison a little unfair.
But then again, both players are riding shot-gun with one of the two best players in the world, and Bunting has (other than the PK) pretty much taken on Hyman’s role.
The bottom line is this: The Leafs were right to let Hyman walk, and they have replaced him with a player who makes 20% of his salary. That’s a massive win for the Leafs and it completely justifies their salary cap strategy of paying most of their money to four star forwards because it shows that spending mid-range money on lower-tier stars like Hyman is not necessary to compete.
Over the next couple of years, Bunting is not going to be as good or as valuable as Zach Hyman, even if he’s doing slightly better right now. Hyman is the better player and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
But for the money, the Leafs have the better value and they made the right decision. It’s great that right now Bunting is outperforming Hyman, but the Leafs don’t need that to be the case to have made the right move. The real lesson here is that a hockey line can only be so good, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are good enough that it will never be very hard for management to find a complimentary player who is useful on their line.
At a certain point there is the law of diminishing rewards to consider. You just don’t need to spend $5 million dollars to max out the Auston Matthews line. Michael Bunting is a great story, but the real success here is that the Leafs can use the money to augment the roster in ways they wouldn’t have been able to if they re-signed Hyman.