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Leafs and Michael Bunting’s camp have “touched base” and what that next contract could look like

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
28 days ago
We are a few days removed from when the Leafs could begin re-signing the players that are presently on one-year contracts, but news on that front has remained quiet. What we do have rumblings of, courtesy of Pierre LeBrun is that the Leafs have reached out to Michael Bunting’s agent regarding re-signing him as a Leaf.
Now there really isn’t a whole lot to this statement and by Pierre’s report it is “very, very preliminary” but it does at least show that the Leafs are interested in the fan favourite Scarborough raised player around. Given that he is one of the few feisty top six options and a staple of Auston Matthews’ line, that seems like a good thing to do.
The reality of the situation with Bunting isn’t exactly as straightforward as the Leafs wanting him to be in Toronto and Bunting wanting to be in Toronto though, and that’s where this early assessment is important. Bunting is due for a significant raise and the Leafs aren’t exactly in a situation where they have a ton of money to throw around. Bunting may very much be a priority, but it’s very possible that Ilya Samsonov’s next contract could now be where any and all cap space is prioritized for next season and players like Bunting and Kampf might price themselves out of Toronto.
The primary example of a Bunting comparable contract seems to be the Nick Paul deal signed in Tampa. A 7-year deal at $3.15M AAV seemed like a steep price to pay for Paul and Bunting’s production actually exceeds that. Granted Paul sees a lot more third line usage than Bunting and that will influence his production, but it is still a deal that is likely to serve as a blueprint for the Leafs, who will likely be looking to rely on the term to bring down the cap hit.
Evolving Hockey’s salary projection (based on the end of the 2021-22 season) sees Bunting most likely to get a three-year deal at just under $4M AAV based on their model. This, like the Paul deal, seems like something in the ballpark of what the Leafs could be comfortable with. That said, that was based on a potential one-off breakout year playing with Auston Matthews, now that Bunting has shown he has staying power on that line and his numbers are becoming consistent with what he did in his “rookie” year, the consistency and rising salary cap should drive the price up for a pesty player that can produce.
The long and short of it is if Michael Bunting is pricing himself out of Toronto it might be better for the Leafs to have the information in hand well in advance of the trade deadline as well, not that moving Bunting makes a lick of sense at all, at his price he’s a Leaf until his contract expires at the very least. It just may inform whether the Leafs wish to prioritize term or someone they’d look to re-sign over a rental player.
The Leafs are not short on players for these talks to be taking place. Of their active 23 player roster, 12 players are scheduled to be hitting free agency in some capacity this summer. Another nine players either on their injured reserve or the Marlies will also be slated for free agency. Bunting might be one of the more significant players, but with potentially as low as $13M in cap space to address these contracts, some tough decisions will be coming.

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