Kieffer Bellows is playing his way into a contract with the Leafs

Photo credit:(Photo from Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
When free agency rolls around every year, 99% of the focus is rightfully shifted toward the holes on the NHL roster that need to be filled. When you’re the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the draft and the subsequent free agency period, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger microscope to fall under. Brad Treliving lived this experience for the first time this past summer. Not as a GM in free agency, he’s a seasoned veteran on that front. But, doing it with the Maple Leafs is a whole different beast. 
Treliving had a…rough first day of free agency as Leafs GM. He began the festivities with a multi-year contract for an aging enforcer in Ryan Reaves and a one-year deal for defenceman John Klingberg, whose defensive issues proved to outweigh the puck-moving ability he was signed for. That said, he seemingly won the fanbase back by signing Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to one-year deals the following day. 
Things quieted down after those four contracts were signed. By the time the offseason ended, the Leafs had sprinkled in a couple of depth signings including defencemen William Lagesson and Simon Benoit, as well as veteran goaltender Martin Jones all on one-year deals. The latter two have been big parts in helping keep the Leafs above water as they navigate through defensive and goaltending setbacks, and they also had forward Noah Gregor spawn a contract from a PTO (professional tryout), blossoming into a fine fourth-line forward in the process.
Remember that term “PTO”, because Gregor wasn’t the only one who signed one of those this year. 
About three weeks into the NHL season, Treliving offered a PTO to former New York Islanders first-round pick Kieffer Bellows. The son of former NHLer Brian Bellows spent the first four years of his career with the Islanders organization, playing parts of those four seasons in the NHL and parts in the AHL. Between 2019-20 and 2022-23, he tallied 25 points over 68 NHL games combined. His time with the Islanders came to an end when he was placed on waivers in October 2022 and subsequently claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. The 25-year-old struggled to find his footing in the NHL with the Flyers, with only three goals in 27 games, and wasn’t tendered an offer this summer. 
Bellows was promptly offered a PTO by the Carolina Hurricanes back in September but was released less than a month later. Enter the Maple Leafs, who decided to give him another shot on the tryout front at the hands of their AHL affiliate.
Since signing with a PTO with the Toronto Marlies, Bellows has consistently been one of their best forwards night in and night out. He’s got 14 goals and 23 points in 24 games to date, and he doesn’t even have a contract yet. His production is good for fourth in scoring on the Marlies, and he’s scored three goals in his last two games.
It’s no secret that at 25 years old and nearly eight years removed from his draft, Bellows is a bit of a project player. Sometimes taking a flyer on players like this works, and sometimes it doesn’t (see Alex Galchenyuk). But at this point, the Leafs have three open contract slots to work with, and since Bellows has kept his production up without even taking a paycheque home, he’s done enough to warrant a look for a legitimate contract. 
Whether that contract is just to give him some stability and potentially an opportunity with the team next season, or if the Leafs actually have plans to give him a shot in the lineup at some point, is unknown as of now. Heck, they might not have even gotten this far in the consideration process. But, if the Leafs can shelter some of his weaknesses, he has assets to his game that could be deemed valuable for the bottom six. His shot is his bread and butter, and at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he’s got a mean streak to his game and has the ability to use his body to his advantage. 
The Leafs have a wealth of options for forward depth in the AHL should the injury bug ever hit them up front the same way it has on the defensive corps this year. We’ve already seen Nick Robertson and Pontus Holmberg get their shots. Alex Steeves, who leads the Marlies in scoring right now with 27 points in 26 games, is probably worthy of a look at some point. Then you’ve got guys like Nick Abruzzese and Ryan Tverberg, who may have already been given a look on most other teams given their AHL production so far, both producing at nearly a point-per-game clip.
What Bellows has on all of those players is NHL experience. Sure, his time in the big league hasn’t gone according to plan at this stage of his career, but having played games in the show gives you an edge in this day and age. The difference in competition and the stark contrast of skill level between the NHL and the AHL is a real thing, which is why the Leafs haven’t rushed to give goaltender Dennis Hildeby any starts yet (different positions, but same logic). 
The one thing about depth in the NHL is that you can never have too much of it. Will Bellows get a shot with the Leafs this year? Who knows. But it can’t hurt to give him one. When you’re scoring at a clip of over 0.5 goals per game and you’ve shot up into top-5 in team scoring despite missing the first few weeks of the season, there’s not much else you can do. Best-case scenario, the Leafs sign him to a contract and he becomes a contributing member of the bottom six for dirt cheap. Worst case scenario, they sign him, it doesn’t work out, they send him down again or try to flip him at the deadline. It’s a virtually risk-free scenario and one that Treliving should be exploring if he hasn’t already.

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