This past offseason Kyle Dubas and other members of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ management took a long look at the 3-1 series collapse at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, to determine what needed to change going forward. When the free-agent market opened, and some “big fish” were signing with other teams, fans of the Maple Leafs started to panic. Hours into the day the reporters broke some signings that most questioned, players like David Kampf, Michael Bunting, Kurtis Gabriel, Alex Biega, Carl Dahlstrom, and a goalie who could have challenged Jack Campbell for the starting role; Petr Mrazek. These signings made many fans question the brains behind the operation (Kyle Dubas), wondering when the news that one of the “Core Four” was going to break, but it never came. Days later the team announced the signings of forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie, which generated a ton of buzz. Fast forward to January 2022, the Maple Leafs are a top 5 team in the league, and those signings that left fans confused have settled into their roles.
- David Kampf: 2 years/ $3,000,000 ($1,500,000 per)
- Kampf has solidified himself as a traditional 3rd line defensive center that the team hasn’t seen in years. He provides stability in the circle in the defensive zone. His face-off percentage is the best of his NHL career at 55.1%, helping the Maple Leafs sit atop of the face-off percentage in the league. Kampf has also helped the team neutralize the penalty kill, which has had some struggles in seasons prior, with the addition of him the PK percentage is sitting around 82.5% and that has them 7th in the league. He has proven to be a key guy who can play against the opposition’s top lines, which helps the team play Matthews and Tavares lines in more situations in the offensive zone.
- Michael Bunting: 2 years/ $1,900,000 ($950,000 per)
- Finding himself in the top six on a line with two superstar players (Auston Matthews & Mitch Marner), in a role that compares to former Leaf and current Edmonton Oiler, Zach Hyman, with a similar point production thus far into the season. Bunting has tallied 7 Goals and 14 Assists for 21 Points in 34 Games and is a +2. Whereas Hyman has collected 11 Goals and 9 Assists for 20 Points in 31 Games and is a -9. He has become an agitator and uses it to his advantage by getting under the opposition’s skin. He also doesn’t shy away from a scrum in front of the opponent’s net and come to the aid of his teammates when he is needed to during those altercations.
- Petr Mrazek: 3 years/ $11,400,000 ($3,800,000 per)
- Unfortunately, the injury bug has haunted him again this season. He has only played in three games, one of which he had to leave after two periods due to a groin issue. Currently Mrazek’s stat line is 2 Wins, 1 Loss, in 3 games, with a 4.13 GAA and a .880 SV%, although this is a small sample size it will become bigger with time. He will see more action especially with the postponement of games that has happened due to Covid, this will force himself and Jack Campbell to share the net as the going will get tough to make up those games.
- Alex Biega: 1 year/ $750,000 (Two-way deal)
- Biega only has had a small sample size with the Leafs, however, has shown he can step into the lineup when needed and play on the bottom pairing. Every team needs seven to eight defence when it comes to a long playoff run, and he does check some boxes as an extra in case of injuries or the need to sit another player.
- Carl Dahlstrom: 1 year/ $750,000 (Two-way deal)
- Dahlstrom hasn’t seen NHL action with the Maple Leafs but does find himself having a good role on the back end with the AHL affiliates; the Toronto Marlies.
- Kurtis Gabriel: 1 year/ $ 750,000
- Gabriel did not see NHL action with the Leafs, and was traded to Chicago on December 9th, 2020, for defencemen Chad Krys (who reported to the AHL). Gabriel was a player that the fans wanted to see in the lineup when other players in a similar role were struggling.
- Ondrej Kase: 1 year/ $1,250,000
- Kase has been an amazing addition by the Maple Leafs, on a ‘show me’ type deal after suffering from injuries in recent years with the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks. He has been a guy who can move up and down your lineup and still gives you 100% effort, described as a "buzzsaw type player" by Jason Spezza. The 25-year-old has collected 8 Goals and 9 Assists for 17 Points in 29 games and is a +5. Kase’s career high in goals is 20, in 2017-18, since then he hasn’t scored more than 11, and is projected to break his career high this season. It would be ideal if Kase could be locked up for another year but the risk to sign him after the injury issues were already high, this is a low-risk, high reward contract on the Leafs part.
- Nick Ritchie: 2 years/$5,000,000 ($2,500,000 per)
- He has not been good; he has been awful, to say the least, amassing only 2 Goals, 9 Assists for 11 Points 32 Games, and is currently a -5. This resulted in the Leafs waiving Ritchie, but he cleared and thanks to Covid finds himself back in the lineup. However, when the lineup is healthy Ritchie appears to be heading to the taxi squad. There was a lot of pressure put on Ritchie when he was signed to fill the role of former Leaf and Matthews line mate, Zach Hyman. As we know those are big shoes to fill as Hyman was a fan favourite. As of right now the 26-year-old finds himself on the outside looking in, and it will take a lot more then scoring a few more points to get himself back into the mix. He has been lazy on the back check, and very slow getting involved in the play. It seemed it would be nearly impossible for the Leafs to find a suitor to take on his $2,500,000 contract for not only this year but next and with the team not having many draft picks this year, it seems inevitable that he will play out the year within the organization before a decision is made.
Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs" upper management made moves that improved their team, both offensively and defensively. The signings that they made were ones that confused a lot of fans and left them wondering why they didn’t spend money on other Unrestricted Free Agents instead. We are about four months into the season the belief is that this team can make it out of the 1st round this year and can compete with the powerhouses of the league. Keep in mind that there is still a lot to be decided ahead of the March 21st trade deadline, like shoring up the back end, and potentially bringing in a 3rd goalie in case of injuries to Jack Campbell or Petr Mrazek. As many fans know the Leafs are extremely tight to the cap and making a big move can be challenging. In the coming months, Dubas and Brandon Pridham (Assistant GM) will need to do some juggling with the cap to get a few deals done for a potential long run in the playoffs.
Main image credit: