Michael Bunting: Back with the Maple Leafs or gone in 2023-24?

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
10 months ago
Two years ago, Michael Bunting signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs — his hometown team — to get a taste of what it’d be like. Now, the 27-year-old gets the chance to test the open market once again, where he could receive a more lucrative deal.
When Bunting signed with the Maple Leafs, he only had 26 NHL games to his name. One of the big reasons as to why he arrived in Toronto was because in those 26 games, Bunting had 11 goals.
There was a strong chance that if the 27-year-old bet on himself, it would pay off massively when he signs his next contract. And it has.
Bunting has played 161 games throughout the last two seasons, where he put up 46 goals and 66 assists within that span. The 27-year-old had an unforgettable rookie season where he was third in Calder Trophy voting, as well as being on the NHL’s All-Rookie team.
His first year would be difficult to recreate, and it was. In Bunting’s second season with the Maple Leafs, he played three more games than he did in the previous year, but had 14 less points.
This was primarily due to his movement up and down within Toronto’s lineup. Bunting wasn’t always stapled to Auston Matthews’ wing this season which I believe hindered the 27-year-old’s production.
Still, there’s no denying that Bunting had two great seasons with the Maple Leafs. Although at times he struggled with keeping his cool with referees and opponents, having another 20+ goal scorer on your team was better than not having one.
There seems to be a big question mark, though, as to how much he might command during free agency. Toronto would likely be a team who’d want Bunting at a lower cap hit, but I believe there’ll be a few teams lining up to pay more for his services.
Would Bunting want to take a lower cap hit and longer term to stay with his hometown team? Or does he want to cash in while he can?

4 years – $4.25 million

There have been reports that have said Bunting could receive upwards of six years and a $4-million AAV, which would give him $24 million by the end of the deal. However, I just don’t see teams going that high.
It’s clear that Bunting is a good player, who’s worth giving money to. But with only two years in the NHL — and at 27-years-old — I cannot see teams forking up that much money for his services.
Bunting can get under the skin of his opponent, yes, but his inability to keep his cool did hurt the Maple Leafs at times. Add that to his reputation with referees — which I’ll say he did improve this season — and it’s a difficult sell for a six-year deal worth $24 million.
With the point totals he put up, I do believe Bunting does have some say in how much he might receive. That’s why I have him signing a four-year deal, with an AAV of $4.25 million.
The 27-year-old gets his money and a longer term deal to remain with a team until he’s almost 32. There could be a team that gives him longer term, but if that were the case, I believe it’d have to be at a lower AAV.
While Toronto might be able to afford the four-year, $4.25 million AAV, my inkling is that they’d want to do a longer term, lower AAV deal. Possibly a six-year deal worth $3.5 million?
That would get Bunting two more years in Toronto, at the same price-tag of a possible four-year deal elsewhere.
He could very well cash-in on a massive contract, such as a six-year, $24 million deal. However if that’s the case, it won’t be with Toronto. And if there are more teams lining up for his services, I believe there’s less of a chance he’s a Maple Leaf next season.
It’s all up to Bunting.

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