It was a surprise to me that last offseason the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to bring Zach Aston-Reese into their camp on a PTO (professional try out). His reputation was one of being a physical presence on the ice and I was surprised that no one else had offered him a contract.
As it turned out, the team signed him and he turned out to be not a bad player for the price. He seemed smart enough, gave the bottom six some bite, and actually put up better numbers than I expected.
To Re-Sign or Not to Re-Sign
Aston-Reese is now on an expiring contract. Should the team re-sign him? Here are some reasons I believe the Maple Leafs should consider it.
Reason One: Aston-Reese Plays a Strong Forecheck Game
Aston-Reese has proven to be a valuable bottom-six forward. He’s a strong forechecker. He’s good at putting pressure on opponents and disrupting their plays. I can recall many times the fourth line hemmed the other team’s offence in its own defensive end. He was a valuable asset for a bargain price.
Reason Two: Aston-Reese Plays with Physicality
Aston-Reese brings a physical presence to the ice. He had 163 hits during the season, and that’s not shoddy. Such a physical presence helps create space for teammates and provides a level of toughness that the team has been missing.
Reason Three: Aston-Reese Is a Net-Front Presence
Aston-Reese battles in front of the net. That leads to scoring opportunities and screens for teammates. His willingness to go to the “tough areas of the ice” creates scoring chances. Again, and this might seem redundant, he adds that gritty element to the team’s offence as well as it defense.
Reason Four: Aston-Reese Will Likely Re-Sign at Cap-Friendly Cost
Aston-Reese’s projected cap hit is under $1 million. Thus, re-signing him provides the team with cost-effective depth. This allows the Maple Leafs to allocate their resources to other areas of need while still maintaining a capable forward in the lineup.
One Big Reason Not to Re-Sign Aston-Reese
However, there’s only one reason I believe the team might choose not to re-sign Aston-Reese. That’s if he takes the place of a youngster who might be rising through the Maple Leafs organization and could fit into the spot.
Here, I’m first thinking of Bobby McMann. He plays a sort of in-your-face game, and he might have a significant more offensive upside that Aston-Reese had.
I do know that, when Matthew Knies arrived on the scene, Aston-Reese’s ice time dropped significantly. Knies is a player you want to make space for. Are there others?
The Bottom Line
If the coaching staff might have other players in the organization they’d like to see used in the role that was Aston-Reese’s, I’m guessing the chances of his being re-signed are lower.
While there might be similar players available in free agency, Aston-Reese is a known quality. I’d lean toward keeping him. He does have more offense than I expected, and he was solid for the team.
The tipping point for me is this: if there are prospects pushing for full-time spots, they deserve the first chance. If not, and he can be re-signed for a salary-cap friendly price. Sign him up.