The 2021-22 season was a historic one for the Leafs where they broke franchise records previously a season prior to John Tavares coming home. It was also the breakout campaign for Michael Bunting, who found immediate success when lined up with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. While they were unable to get the job done in the playoffs yet again, it wasn’t due to Bunting and he has established himself as an integral part of the Leafs’ core moving forward.
But how will things go in the second year of his two-year contract? And will he be able to stick around in Toronto or get taken away by the Oilers as has seemingly been the case over the past two years? That is what I will try and answer using Franchise Hockey Manager 8.
This is the 11th edition of career simulations that began in August 2020 when I simulated Marner’s career with NHL 20. If this is your first time reading one of these posts, feel free to catch up on the past 10 entries that are linked below:
I will be following these six rules throughout this simulation:
- I’m not allowed to control the Leafs at all during the sim, so I randomly selected a team before starting
- Auto-Sign is on so I don’t affect Free-Agency
- Injuries are left on
- Once Bunting retires, the sim ends
- Every five years, I’ll post his stats along with any awards he might have won
- I’ll update you guys on anything noteworthy regarding the Leafs and who won the Stanley Cup
Here is how the Leafs’ lines looked to begin the 2021-22 season in the simulation. It’s worth noting that Matthews is absent due to a sore wrist that will keep him out for the first two weeks.
And here is where things stand with Bunting at the beginning of the sim:
Year 1 (2021-22)
By all accounts, this was a solid year for the Leafs in regards to the regular season. While they finished nowhere close to the division title (23 points behind the Bruins), they sat comfortably in second place in the Atlantic. Bunting’s stats were well off from how he did in real life, but his 37 points in 81 points were good enough for sixth on the team in scoring.
About a month into the season, the Leafs shipped off Justin Holl to the Devils for a third-round pick. They also decided to keep most of the pending free agents signed, giving Jack Campbell, Mark Giordano, Ilya Mikheyev, and Rasmus Sandin new deals. Hell, even Jason Spezza decided to extend his career another season by agreeing to a one-year contract. Most strange of all, they managed to bring back Matt Frattin who split time between the Leafs and Marlies.
The Leafs had a rematch with the Canadiens in the first round during this reimagined season. Much like the previous matchup, Toronto lost, but this time in six games. Bunting could only muster up two assists in that span, which is one goal off from his actual output this year.
This year’s finals saw the Bruins and Canucks square off once again and Boston would once again emerge victorious in five games.
Year 2 (2022-23)
Since the Leafs did most of their work during the regular season, the only notable transaction they made was sending Joseph Woll to the Kraken for Dennis Cholowski. Timothy Liljegren was not given an extension since the Leafs had no cap space so he began the year in the SHL.
Quite a lot of strange things ended up happening this season for the Leafs. Just before the regular season began, they signed Martin Jones to a one-year contract while trading Mikeheyev to the Wild and Campbell to the Red Wings (even though both were recently given extensions). Toronto also made a trade with the Oilers by getting Slater Koekkoek for a second-round pick. All of this while failing to get Liljegren signed.
Despite the bizarre moves, this was another successful regular season for the Leafs who finished with 103 points. They had the same record as the Panthers, who broke the tie-breaker by having more ROWs. Toronto would finally win a playoff round by sweeping said Panthers and went on a 10-game winning streak in the playoffs. That would end in Game 3 of the ECF against the Islanders who proceeded to beat the Leafs in six games and win the Cup against the Golden Knights.
Bunting took a big step forward this year by finishing with 59 points in 82 games played, which had him finish fifth on the team in scoring. His 11 points in 14 playoff games also had him finish fifth on the team in scoring and was good enough to earn him a three-year extension with a $1.86 million AAV.
Year 3 (2023-24)
In addition to re-signing Bunting, the Leafs were also able to get Jones, Alex Kerfoot, Joey Anderson, and David Kampf to new deals before the start of free agency. And much like the previous season, the Leafs decided once again to trade some of their re-signed players for a draft pick. Bunting was one of those players, as he was sent to the Sharks for a first-round pick.
The Sharks had a mediocre season that saw them finish just below .500 while also being within four points of the final Wild Card spot due to how weak the rest of their division was. Bunting finished with two points less than he did the year prior, which was good enough for third on San Jose in scoring.
The Bruins would recapture the Cup, this time beating the Avalanche in six games.
Year 4 (2024-25)
The Sharks had a quiet offseason where the only move of any significance was acquiring Nick Leddy from the Blues in exchange for Jeffrey Viel and what remained of Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
San Jose had another mediocre season where they finished with 78 points and below .500. Yet somehow, that was good enough to finish fourth in their division and brought them level with the Canucks, who held the tiebreaker by posting four more ROWs. The Pacific Division was by far the worst in hockey this season as the Oilers were the only team to finish with a record above .500 and a positive goals differential.
Bunting took a step back offensively as he dropped down to 40 points and finished seventh on the Sharks in scoring. The Coyotes would go on a miracle run to the Finals where they nearly blew a 3-0 series lead to beat the Islanders.
Year 5 (2025-26)
After falling just short of a playoff spot in a week division, the Sharks took matters into their own hands and made some major splashes in the offseason.
They improved their defensive core by signing Oscar Klefbom and Jaccob Slavin at the start of free agency. Then they made a blockbuster trade with the Lightning centred around them acquiring Brandon Hagel as well as swapping Ryan Merkley for Cole Smith. Because of the loaded roster, Bunting found himself on the outside looking in and was traded to the Bruins for a first-round pick.
For some reason, Bunting didn’t immediately start playing in the NHL as he spent the first 48 games in the AHL where he recorded 19 goals, 25 assists, and 44 points in that span. Once he finally made it with the Bruins roster, he registered 29 points in 31 games played. It was good enough to earn him a four-year extension that paid him $4.25 million a season.
The Bruins were stuck in a competitive Atlantic Division that saw them finish just two points shy of the final Wild Card spot that was taken up by the Leafs and Sabres. The Blues would go on to beat Buffalo in six games to recapture the Cup.
Here is how Bunting’s stats shakeup after the first five years of the simulation:
Year 6 (2026-27)
The Bruins did not make any major signings this offseason apart from nabbing Michael DiPietro, and their only significant transaction was trading Jack Badini to the Red Wings for Robby Fabbri.
The lack of any significant moves resulted in Boston getting left behind in the shuffle of a division that was insanely competitive, with four teams surpassing 100 points and the fifth to seventh place teams within three points of each other. The Bruins ended up three points behind the Senators for a playoff birth and missed the playoffs once again.
Bunting was able to play the entire year in the NHL this time, but his production took a big step back in regards to efficiency as he finished with 30 in 81 games played. It certainly did not help that the Bruins were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league that season, despite making a trade with the Flyers for Zach MacEwen.
The Sabres would avenge their heartbreak from the previous season by sweeping the Oilers for the Stanely Cup.
Year 7 (2027-28)
Bunting was sent packing a little over a year after netting a four-year extension, this time getting traded to the Panthers in exchange for Sam Reinhart.
The Panthers did well in the regular season, and they had to be because the Atlantic Division was hyper-competitive again with the five teams that qualified each surpassing 100 points. Bunting had another down year offensively as he regressed to 24 points, and then suffered a season-ending fractured-ankle injury that prevented him from playing in his first playoff games since 2023.
Florida made it to the second round where they were quickly dispatched by the Rangers in five games. Colorado would replicate real-life by taking home the Cup but in this instance beating the Senators in five.
Year 8 (2028-29)
Florida spent the majority of their offseason re-signing expiring contracts and filling up their AHL team. Their biggest move would be sending Pano Fimis and a defensive prospect to Chicago in exchange for a package centred around Dylan Strome.
They probably should have done more because the team saw a massive regression this season that saw them slip to the bottom of the division standings and the league’s basement with a measly 64 points. Bunting had his worst output yet as he managed just three measly points in 16 games played, which resulted in him being sent down to the AHL. He did much better with the Charlotte Checkers, although not by much, with eight goals, 12 assists, and 20 points in 20 games played.
The Checkers made it to the playoffs where they were eliminated in five games by the Rochester Americans, where Bunting went scoreless in four games. That massive contract he signed with the Bruins back in 2026 is looking more like a waste of money.
Back in the NHL, the Devils would sweep the Ducks to reclaim the Cup.
Year 9 (2029-30)
This was a quiet offseason for the Panthers who did not make any additions to their roster and only focused their efforts on extending Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair, and Anton Lundell.
Bunting spent the entire season with the Checkers and his efficiency diminished further, as his 29 points in 72 games played was nowhere close to how he did the year prior. It did not help the Checkers’ cause since they were well short of a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Panthers made the playoffs and were brushed aside in five games by the Sabres. The Blues would recapture the Cup after a hard-fought series with the Senators that went the distance.
Bunting entered the offseason as a free agent for the first time in nine years but unlike the last time, it remains to be seen if a team will come calling.
Year 10 (2030-31)
The offseason came and went with Bunting not getting signed by a team in the process. He would end up playing in an obscure league called the Seniors and signed with the US Seniors
Against some weaker competition, he seemed to find new life in his game as he recorded 35 points in only 20 games played. An interesting thing of note is that some of his teammates that season included Tage Thompson, Ethan Bear, Adam Gaudette, and Joseph Woll, so take that for what you will. This league is so obscure that it did not record whether or not there was a playoff tournament and how well the US Seniors did, but I would presume they did alright.
Back in the NHL, the Jets edged the Devils in six games to clinch the 2031 Stanley Cup.
Following the conclusion of the season, Bunting decided to hang up his skates and call it a career. Let us take a look at where his stats ended up after his playing days:
The results of Bunting’s were a lot more linear when compared to Sandin’s when I last did this exercise, but I was not expecting him to peak at the start and then go on a tour around the league for the rest of it. I did not have Bunting finishing his career with the US Seniors on my bingo card that is for sure. FHM 8 does not seem to think he will be able to do much else and peak as a middle-six forward, which is a far cry from how things went in his debut season with the Leafs where he was a lock on the top line from the beginning. It was also strange how Bunting only had two playoff appearances in the entire simulation and had a third robbed due to a fractured ankle. All of which is to say that things were a bit underwhelming.
Although the results were not what I was expecting them to be, my hope is that you enjoyed this journey and got a kick out of some of the bizarre moves that GMs made in this simulation. Still can’t wrap my head around the idea that a team would sign a player to a long-term deal and trade them a few months later for a first-round pick. For those of you wondering, the simulation was a bit more sluggish in terms of how fast it moved from year to year, which was because I tried to ensure that I could track as many leagues as possible. While I couldn’t have accounted for Bunting playing in the Seniors league, which also didn’t show up when I set things up, it was much better than what occurred in my last outing.
As per usual, remember that the final results aren’t an accurate portrayal of how Bunting’s career will play out since it is a game that randomizes the outcomes. I hope that Bunting’s actual tenure with the Leafs lasts much longer than it did in this simulation, cause I know the fanbase would not take it well if he was extended and immediately traded months later.
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