Remember when Zach Hyman was the most beloved player on the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Michael Bunting is making Toronto Maple Leafs fans forget Hyman’s name every single time he steps on the ice.
After getting drafted by the Florida Panthers and then traded to the Leafs after his senior season of collegiate hockey, Hyman quickly blossomed into a young star in Toronto. The local kid was a key piece to a Toronto Marlies team that made the Eastern Conference Finals, before becoming a full-time NHLer the year after.
Hyman was in the same group (although much older) as William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews as all four of them made their true debuts during the 2016-17 season.
For five seasons, Hyman seemed to get better every year and was a driving force beside a combination of either John Tavares, Nylander, Marner and Matthews. He was the player who would put his hard-hat on, go into the corners and dig out the puck to allow time and space for the skilled players to score.
The grunt-worker isn’t typically as valued as the star players, but in Toronto, the fans fell in love with him.
After he became a perennial 20-goal scorer, fans (and management) knew that they weren’t going to be able to afford his services anymore and wished him luck, as he signed a seven-year deal worth $5.5M to play for the Edmonton Oilers.
Replacing Hyman seemed like an impossible feat, but Kyle Dubas had the perfect player in mind when he signed Michael Bunting to a two-year deal worth $950,000 AAV.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Bunting is Becoming More Loved than Hyman
The fans fell in love with Hyman because he worked hard and was from Toronto, so Dubas used that same philosophy when he signed Bunting to a two year-deal.
Raised in Scarborough, ON, Bunting understood his role right away and become a perfect fit with Marner and Matthews. He’s the hard-working pest who gets under the skin of his opponents, but can also score in the dirty areas.
He’s the exact player Toronto needed and is doing even better than Hyman this year for one-fifth of the price.
- Player A:
- 70 games: 24 goals, 50 points
- Player B:
- 76 games, 23 goals, 63 points
Player A is making $5.5M this year to play with a former Hart Trophy winner every night, while Player B is playing with a future Hart Trophy winner, making only $950K.
When you have amazingly skilled players like Marner and Matthews, you don’t need to pay someone $5.5M to play with them. Instead, as the Leafs have shown, they can turn a $950K per year player into a top-line performer.
Instead of keeping a player at $5.5M and killing the depth of the organization, the Leafs were able to replace Hyman with an even better player for a fraction of the price. They somehow upgraded their first line left-wing position, while making the rest of their team stronger.
If that doesn’t win Kyle Dubas the Executive of the Year award, I don’t know what will.
Regardless, Bunting was a home-run addition this year and Matthews and Marner are benefiting tremendously with him.