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NHL Rumours: Toronto Maple Leafs Forward Extension Potential

Michael Bunting Extension

As the NHL begins, many teams still deal with salary cap considerations. Some of those discussions revolve around the present day, but others extend far into the future. One such example (of many) sits with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their breakout left winger, Michael Bunting needs an extension after this season. And given the “breakout” adjective, a raise looks imminent. Since he reaches unrestricted free agent (UFA) status next summer, the clock is ticking. Here is what we know about any potential Michael Bunting extension.

NHL Rumours – Michael Bunting Extension

In TSN’s “Insider Trading” segment, NHL insiders Chris Johnston, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger kicked around the Bunting extension idea. LeBrun noted a massive eight-year contract may be within the realm of possibility. He added though that no extension talks have begun between the two parties. That said, Bunting turns 28 before next season, making it likely his only shot at a large, long contract. If he wants to lock in a salary for a long term, as long as eight years, this next summer will be the time to do it.

Projecting a Michael Bunting Extension

Bunting reached the NHL back in 2018-19, playing in five games with the Arizona Coyotes and recording one goal. It took two years to re-emerge at the NHL level, too. In 2020-21, he dressed in 21 games, scoring ten goals and 13 points in total. That earned him a two-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs via free agency ahead of last season. People knew he carried breakout potential after seeing his goal-scoring ability in that 21-game stint the year prior. And in his first season with Toronto, Bunting did not disappoint.

Through 79 contests, Bunting recorded 23 goals and 40 assists for 63 points. This exceeded every expectation for the winger, and his $950,000 cap hit became one of the biggest bargains in the league. Without a doubt, Bunting can command a hefty raise on the open market as a UFA next year. But the Leafs could extend him during the 2022-23 season ahead of that, should they make the right offer.

Toronto might bite, too. Awarding a deal of that length helps bring down the annual cap hit, at least theoretically. Bunting may be willing to accept a few less million per season if he can guarantee that figure for more years. That rings especially true for a player that inked four contracts in his career to date, all for three years or less. And, all of those contracts came in at under a $1 million annual salary.

Leafs Could Extend Bunting for Eight Years

Should Bunting exceed the 20-goal and/or 60-point plateau again, suitors will line up league-wide. His worth today already exceeds his cap hit dramatically. With three forwards already earning over $10 million annually, Toronto doesn’t have tons of room to wiggle with the cap. Bunting fits in great with their group as a middle-six winger, providing scoring depth on a top-heavy roster. The only way they could retain that type of player would be at a salary discount. To make that palatable to Bunting’s camp, they would have to add term.

LeBrun believes that Bunting wants to remain a Maple Leaf. If Bunting truly feels that way, he and Toronto may very well wind up negotiating a figure at the maximum eight-year length. That would lock him up far longer than any other player in a Leafs uniform. Auston Matthews becomes a free agent in the summer of 2024. John Tavares and Mitch Marner do the same just one summer later. Toronto will need to retain budget flexibility to either re-sign or replace those three when the time comes. A friendly cap hit for Bunting, for eight years to boot, certainly does all of that and more.

The longer they wait, the more that final figure moves. Strong play nudges the amount up for Bunting, which makes his willingness to test the market nudge up, too. He certainly could receive a higher salary with a different team, one with less cap pressure. On the other hand, poor play nudges the amount down. So both sides see an incentive to make a deal happen sooner than later. Expect these talks to ramp up over the first half of the season, especially if Bunting looks like he did last season on the ice.


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