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Optimism on Matthews, the end of the road for Bunting, and Dmitri Orlov: Leaflets

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 months ago
As I’m about to head out for a week long vacation I take comfort in the fact that I will be sitting out what is often the most misleading week in hockey. The playoffs are over, the buyout window is open, but the week leading into the draft never seems to live up to the hype that is placed on it for volume of transactions. We’ll definitely see a couple more Jesper Bratt type signings, a buyout or two, and maybe even a trade, but this is the last calm before the storm. At the same time we get bombarded with speculation that this year is the summer the NHL will finally go transaction crazy and everything is on the table. That’s never really materialized either and with pretty much the same 32 GMs at the table this year as last, I’m guessing everyone will be as guarded as ever. Prove me wrong.

Replacing Michael Bunting

While it doesn’t seem the door has completely shut on Michael Bunting returning to the Leafs, it also doesn’t look like he’s going to be naming him price or the Leafs are going to put in a ton of work to keep him.
That being said, Bunting as a sub-$1M player capable of taking advantage of a top line role is something the Leafs will miss and it shouldn’t be as simple as saying “that’s Matthew Knies’ spot now.”
While Knies definitely looks capable of sliding into a top six role and providing some physicality coupled with finishing ability, in fact he’s got the potential to be better in this role than Bunting, it’s worth appreciating that role that Bunting and Knies provide could have easily been used on a couple of other lines as well as the Matthews line.
If the Leafs want Matthew Knies in Bunting’s spot on the Matthews line it probably should spell the end of Bunting in Toronto. Bunting was never as effective with Tavares and when moved into bottom six roles his ability to agitate remained but he could not generate his own offense.
The fact that Bunting is very likely to get paid north of $4M a season, the Leafs would be taking a huge risk when it comes to seeing if he can fit in elsewhere or would have to commit to his present role remaining intact. Given that NHL officials have become wise to Bunting’s antics it seems that Toronto might be better off starting over with someone new. And who knows, Roni Hirvonen has shown a lot of promise as an agitating undersized winger playing on top lines in the Liiga. He too could be a path forward that doesn’t involve breaking the bank at a time when the Leafs should be avoiding unnecessary long term salary commitments outside of their core.

Matthews looks to be on his way back

It has been a week of encouraging reports when it comes to Auston Matthews, following about a month of wild speculation that it would be harder to bring him back without Dubas and that the American born player would want to play in the United States. It was nice to get back to hearing that even an eight year deal could be on the table and while I don’t doubt the Leafs will be pushing for that, it really doesn’t seem like what Matthews will sign.
My best guess (take that for what it’s worth) is that Matthews is looking for a deal that expires the year after the new CBA kicks in. I’m also guessing that shorter term comes with a contract more aligned to the shorter term salary cap situation as well. Matthews gets a chance to assess the true degree of cap escalating rather than locking into a number that might look inflated today but could appear as a bargain in three years time.
While numbers starting with $13M all the way up to $15M seem to be in play, I’d imagine a short term deal keeps Toronto closer to $13M and an 8 year deal puts Matthews up in the $15M range. I suppose there are advantages to both, but right now the $13M sounds a lot nicer.

Is Dmitry Orlov Toronto’s big fish?

The Leafs have never properly replaced Jake Muzzin. Jake McCabe definitely covered off the first name and second initial aspect, as well as some of the physical play part, but when looking at Jake Muzzin at his best, no one really made the Leafs top four defense as hard to play against as Toronto had it with Muzzin.
It’s in that spirit that Dmitry Orlov could be viewed as the potential answer. After doing a solid job in Washington (often in front of Ilya Samsonov) Orlov looked equally capable as a rental in Boston and might have proven that his skill set wasn’t locked specifically into playing Capitals hockey.
With the Leafs having some money available, largely due to Muzzin being on the LTIR, Orlov becomes a real possibility, but at the cost of upgrading the Leafs offense or quite possibly at the cost of TJ Brodie remaining a Leaf.
Bringing Orlov in and sending Brodie out might be a bit of deck chair shuffling and likely at a higher cost as it seems Orlov is likely to hit the $7M mark or could come in lower if he receives an excessive amount of term.
Orlov is a 20 minute a night defender who jumped up to 22 minutes last season. He’s a heavy hitter but a less frequent hitter than say someone like Luke Schenn. Orlov picks his spots and makes it memorable, but his defensive game is more positional than physical. He’s a player that would be very at home on what Brad Treliving put together on Calgary’s blueline.

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