Checking in on 5 ex-Maple Leafs: The Countdown

Photo credit:Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
23 days ago
It was rough this past weekend for Leafs fans, having to watch Zach Hyman score his 50th goal of the season for the Edmonton Oilers. The same Hyman who wanted to stay in Toronto three summers ago, but then-GM Kyle Dubas wouldn’t cave into his no-movement clause demands. His $5.5 million annual salary now looks like a steal and all he’s done since joining the Oilers is set career highs year after year.
While Hyman would have looked really nice alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews for the rest of his career, he won’t be leaving Edmonton any time soon. Hyman’s not the only ex-Maple Leaf worth talking about. Let’s check in on five ex-Leafs and how their seasons are faring this season.

Ryan O’Reilly – Nashville Predators

When Brad Treliving joined the Maple Leafs, he went to work immediately to try and re-sign O’Reilly. Unfortunately, even though his contract offer was more lucrative than what the Nashville Predators offered, The Factor went to Smashville to enjoy some nice weather, less media and some country music.
O’Reilly’s having a stellar season and is one of the main reasons why the Preds are locked in the playoff picture in the Western Conference, a position nobody saw coming. O’Reilly’s posted 24 goals and 58 points through 71 games this season and has a chance to set a career-high in goals. With the Preds, the veteran centre is playing just under 20 minutes a night, the most minutes he’s played in four seasons. He’s killing penalties, a catalyst on the power play and is winning 54% of his faceoffs.
While O’Reilly would have looked great in blue and white for the next four seasons, he decided it was best for his career to find more opportunity elsewhere. Needless to say, in his first season in Smashville, it appears he made the right decision for himself.

Michael Bunting, Pittsburgh Penguins

Now-Penguins GM Kyle Dubas traded Jake Guentzel for a package that included, to the surprise of nobody, Michael Bunting. The former Soo Greyhound signed on with the Carolina Hurricanes last offseason, and considering the history between the two both in the OHL and the NHL, seeing Dubas and Bunting reunite wasn’t a surprise to anyone.
What was a surprise was the fact the Hurricanes gave up on Bunting so quickly after signing him to a three-year $13.5 million contract. In his first 60 games with the ‘Canes, management wasn’t happy with his inconsistent production. The pesky winger had scored just 13 times in 60 games and was been given loads of power-play time. He registered just 36 points in Carolina before being included in the blockbuster package that was sent to Pittsburgh for Guentzel, a trade that looks like it’s going to send Carolina over the hump this season as they appear poised for a long playoff run. Bunting on the other hand, gets to ride out the rest of the regular season in Pittsburgh before Dubas prepares himself for the NHL draft.
I feel if you ask Leafs fans who they’d rather have, Tyler Bertuzzi or Bunting, the majority would say Bertuzzi, even though the Sudbury, ON native got off to a slow start in Toronto. The two play very similar games, however, Bertuzzi takes fewer careless penalties and showed off his playoff production last season, putting up 10 points in seven games with the Bruins. Bunting meanwhile, had just one goal and two points in seven games for the Leafs last postseason and was suspended for three playoff games thanks to a nasty hit on Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak. After his playoff suspension, Bunting was shown the door, much like Nazem Kadri was after his. Seems to be the right decision at this point.

Noel Acciari, Pittsburgh Penguins

Staying in the ‘burgh, Noel Acciari was another pending free agent who Treliving had to ponder keeping around. He chose David Kampf instead, which appears to be the smart decision, however Kampf’s contract is something that could come to bite the team’s finances in years to come.
Acciari has had an up-and-down first season in Pittsburgh, scoring just four goals and collecting seven points in 55 games. He has been strong in the faceoff dot, winning 55% and as expected, is throwing his weight around, landing 124 hits. He’s also held up his end of the bargain on the shot-blocking game, leading all Penguins forwards in blocked shots with 85.
The 32-year-old signed a three-year deal in Pittsburgh for $2 million annually and certainly isn’t the reason why the Penguins are struggling this season. He’s helped their penalty kill be among the upper half of the league and has been a staple among their bottom six. As a right-handed centre and a physical presence, he’s a player who the Leafs could have used more from this season and into the playoffs.

Sam Lafferty, Vancouver Canucks

Speaking of ex-Maple Leafs the team could use right now, Sam Lafferty seems like the one who got away. Treliving’s first trade was sending the speedy winger to the Vancouver Canucks for a fifth-round pick, a deal the Leafs GM would love to have a mulligan on.
Lafferty’s been great for the Canucks this season. He’s helped provide some secondary scoring with his 12 goals, 11 of them at even strength. Lafferty’s been throwing the body this season, landing 155 hits. This would lead all Maple Leafs forwards this season.
Toronto’s struggled to find a bottom-six that has clicked and while some of that has to do with injuries, it’s mostly been inconsistent play. It would have been interesting to see how Lafferty fared in the lineup over the course of a full season, but Treliving decided he wanted to give prospect Fraser Minten a longer look after training camp and Ryan Reaves’ contract also got in the way.

Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes

Despite a rocky injury history and some consistency issues toward the end of his tenure with the Leafs, Andersen is looking like somebody the Leafs could have used at multiple points this season. The Danish netminder signed with the Hurricanes back in the summer of 2021 for just $4.5 million per season. Dubas ended up giving Petr Mrazek $3.8 million over three seasons and quickly had to move him along with a first-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks after he realized his mistake.
Andersen’s since signed another contract with the ‘Canes and while he’s battled some random injuries and a scary blood clot, recently he showed against the Maple Leafs, he’s still an elite netminder. How elite, you ask? He’s top-10 all-time in winning percentage for goaltenders, ahead of the likes of Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, and Tony Esposito, to name a few. He’s been lights out since re-joining the Hurricanes this season, posting a 10-1-0 record overall, along with a 2.05 GAA and .925 Sv.%. Imagine the Maple Leafs had an elite goaltender to turn to right now. Carolina looks scary this season and is going to be a team Toronto needs to get through to make it out of the Eastern Conference.
Nevertheless, there’s no point dwindling on the past as all five of these ex-Leafs could help this season’s team in some capacity. It wasn’t meant to be and now we wait to see which ones will get the chance to try and haunt their former team come playoff time.

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