It wasn’t too long ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the premier puck diggers on their roster. That player was Zach Hyman. When Mike Babcock was the Maple Leafs’ coach, he kept pointing at the value Hyman produced in the team’s top six. Over and over again, Babcock noted to the media (and others) just how good Hyman was as a complementary player to stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Hyman Was a Valuable Maple Leafs Player, But He Moved On
No doubt, Hyman was both unique and valuable for his team. When his contract expired, the Maple Leafs were in no position to offer the kind of money that he desired if he were to stay in Toronto. Or, there were reasons Hyman believed the Edmonton Oilers were a more attractive offer.
I followed the Hyman situation closely, and I still don’t have a clue what made Hyman leave Toronto. Something seemed a bit off to me; but, given what one can see, we have to assume it was a dollars and cents decision.
Still, I was stunned that Hyman did leave. But I can also see why he landed with the Oilers, who are paying him $5.5 million until the end of the 2027-28 season. He adds something Connor McDavid needed. It made sense.
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Many Maple Leafs’ Fans Believe Hyman Is Far Better Than Bunting
After Hyman left, the Maple Leafs signed Michael Bunting. It was a cheap gamble, but it worked out well for the team.
Although Bunting is not Hyman, he has some of the same characteristics. He’s a hard-working player who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in the tough places of the ice. He works hard all over the ice. He has complemented Matthews and Nylander well this season.
Many Maple Leafs’ fans believe that, although Bunting is a good player, Hyman was a much better player. They were upset that the Maple Leafs “allowed” Hyman to leave. In addition, they point a finger at Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas.
For these fans, it was just another example of a Dubas mistake. He was unable to figure out how to keep Hyman on the roster. For these fans, just another example of why Dubas needed to be fired.
That assessment seems unreasonable. First, it assumes that Hyman wanted to stay with the team. As noted, as I watched the negotiations – or lack of them – unfold, I wondered at the time whether Hyman was going to leave regardless of what the team might have offered him. As I note, I don’t know.
Are the Maple Leafs Better Off with Michael Bunting?
However, even if Hyman did prefer to stay, the question remains whether he would have been more valuable than Bunting currently is. Part of the assessment includes the question of the worth of Hyman’s contract in comparison to Bunting’s. Hyman is earning $5.5 million and Bunting is earning $950,000. The relative value of the extra $4.5 million plus is a huge difference.
Last season, Bunting scored 23 goals and added 40 assists (for 63 points in 79 games). This season, in 39 games he’s scored 13 goals and added 16 assists (for 29 points). Last season, Hyman scored 27 goals and added 27 assists (for 54 points in 76 games). This season, he’s scored 18 goals and added 24 assists (for 42 points) also in 39 games. Adding all those numbers, Hyman is four points ahead in the two seasons. Are those four points worth the extra expense?
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The Value of the Players Will Change Over the Next Couple of Seasons
With Bunting on an expiring contract, the Maple Leafs have begun to “touch base” on negotiations. That means the relative value of the contracts will change over the next years. Bunting’s salary will come closer to Hyman’s.
However, I can’t imagine it will be near the $5.5 million Hyman currently makes and has for the past two seasons. My guess is that Bunting, who will only be 28 years old, will sign a modified bridge deal for a couple of seasons in the $3.2 million range.
Hyman is now 30 years old and Bunting is 27. Given the heavier game Hyman plays, there’s speculation that he’ll be better value for his contract over the next few seasons and that value will decrease as he nears 35 years of age.
In addition, given the kind of game Hyman plays, there’s a question of whether he’ll continue to be valuable later in his contract. Certainly, $5.5 million seems fair this season and probably also next season. But, what about four or five seasons from now? Given the term on Hyman’s contract, there’s a good chance that value would decrease over the next while.
Was Hyman Needed on the Maple Leafs’ Roster?
Given the entire context of Hyman’s – his age, his game, and both the needs of the team he left and the team he went to – while he’s a solid addition to the Oilers’ top-six unit, was he as necessary to the Maple Leafs’ top-six unit? Although Hyman is a strong player, given that Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander were already on the team, was it wiser to find a less-expensive option on the first line?
The Bottom Line – Bunting vs Hyman?
I am a huge Hyman fan. I think he’s an amazing player and person.
That said, I believe that Hyman was worth $5.5 million to the Oilers, especially over the next few seasons. At the same time, I don’t believe he was worth $5.5 million to the Maple Leafs. That’s especially true when you consider that – at least for the last two seasons – the team has Bunting proving he can add to the success of the team by playing on the wing of the first line at a little more than one-fifth the expense.
Had Dubas signed the same contract that Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland signed with Hyman, the Maple Leafs would have been paying Hyman $5.5 million until he was 35 years old. Likely, those last two seasons would have proven Patrick Marleau costly (a contract the Dubas successor Lou Lamoriello signed).
My vote is that both teams should be pleased with the way things worked out. That might change depending on what happens in the future; but, of course, who can know that right now?
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