Michael Bunting is set to become a UFA after the 2022-23 season, but the Toronto Maple Leafs should extend him now.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Zach Hyman in free agency, everyone thought he was irreplaceable, but Bunting did the job above-and-beyond all expectations.
The 26-year-old scored 23 goals and registered 63 points, but way more impressively, he had more 5v5 points than Connor McDavid. 92 percent of Bunting’s points came even-strength, so if he were given first-unit power-play minutes, it’s possible that he could have gotten closer to 30 goals and 80 points.
Similar to Hyman, Bunting has turned into a fan-favorite and is taking full-advantage of playing alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews every night. Sure, you could say that any NHL player could contribute offensively playing with Matthews and Marner, but it takes a unique player to fill that void.
Nick Ritchie was supposed to be the Hyman replacement for the 2021-22 season, but he failed miserably. Despite being this big-body winger, who had previously scored 15 goals in a season, Ritchie couldn’t do anything on the first-line.
Bunting, on the other hand, flourished and showed everyone that you need an unselfish player, who can go into the corners to retrieve pucks, but most importantly, find the open areas. As shown by his stat-line, Bunting had an incredible season and needs to get rewarded for it.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Must Sign Michael Bunting Now
Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs could wait and let Bunting walk into free agency, but all that’s going to do is guarantee that he won’t be with the team long-term. As seen countless times over the years, and most recently by Ilya Mikheyev’s hilarious contract, executives will overpay in the offseason and Bunting will be offered a Hyman type contract ($5.5M x 7 years) as a UFA.
The Leafs have a ton of leverage when it comes to Bunting right now.
Where else in the NHL will he get to play with the reigning Hart Trophy winner and top right-winger in the NHL, and where else will he get to play for his hometown team? The answer is nowhere except Toronto.
At $950K, Bunting has one of the best value contracts in the NHL, so I’m not suggesting that he should take a league-minimum deal to stay here, but if Toronto offered him a contract worth $3.5M x 3 years, he’d have to accept it, right?
By signing a three-year extension, that would push Bunting’s next contract to the 2026-27 season, when he’ll be 30-years-old. If he can continue to contribute in Toronto and score between 20-30 goals every year, his next contract could be worth $6-7M, as the salary-cap is expected to rise and he’ll still have plenty of time left in his career to help another organization.
Bunting is an important piece to this line-up and is a hard player to replace. Toronto got lucky once by replacing Hyman with Bunting, but who’s to say they could do it again.
As a result, it’s time to sign Bunting to an extension and keep him with the Toronto Maple Leafs for another few seasons.