When the Toronto Maple Leafs struck a deal to acquire both Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues, Acciari was considered the secondary piece in the deal. Yet, it’s been a little over a month since the trade, and he has stood out for the Maple Leafs. He almost instantly earned Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe’s trust and was deployed in all defensive situations.
Will he receive a contract extension from the team? Like most decisions, management seems to be pushing all contract decisions to the offseason. However, there’s also uncertainty surrounding general manager Kyle Dubas, whose contract is also set to expire. Regardless, Acciari has made an incredibly strong case for an extension, even in a small sample size.
Acciari has brought some missing elements to the club. He is a hard forechecker who does the small things right. He loves to finish his checks, with 214 hits on the season, and get in the lanes to block shots (65). He can turn a defensive play into an offensive chance and has good puck-retrieving skills. He is also very good at staying on the right side of the puck against an opponent. He embodies everything that the Maple Leafs needed as they prepare for a playoff push.
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Acciari also brings playoff experience from his time with the Boston Bruins, as well as a part of the Florida Panthers’ playoff runs in the last three seasons. In six years in the postseason, he has played 54 games, with four goals and three assists. He also has a whopping 203 hits in the playoffs. Since the Auston Matthews era started in 2016, the Maple Leafs have lacked a player like Acciari. They’ve always had a team with a lot of skill but little grit. But this year the Leafs’ brass made the necessary moves to add to the roster but the most crucial one might be Acciari.
Why the Maple Leafs Need to Extend Acciari
When the Maple Leafs are ready to offer extensions, Acciari has to be at the top of the list. There are a few names that are on the team’s priority list, such as Michael Bunting and Ilya Samsonov. But what Acciari has over those players is character. You could argue Bunting brings that “agitator” role to the team, but he isn’t a “glue guy” like Acciari. The Maple Leafs have tough contract choices ahead. Both Matthews and William Nylander will be eligible for extensions as of July 1, 2023, and Mitch Marner and John Tavares’ contracts can be negotiated as of July 1, 2024.
The front office will have to manage the cap to fit their star players and sign competitive bottom-six players. Acciari won’t be looking for a huge deal, probably in the ballpark of $1.5-2 million for two seasons, which would be smart, because he knows his role and his importance to the team.
The Maple Leafs have a handful of prospects and young talent (Matthew Knies, Ryan Tverberg, Topi Neimela) who can push for roster spots in the next few seasons. The team needs to ensure that they won’t make the same mistakes with them that they did with Matthews and Marner. They didn’t insulate them with players who do all the little things right. If Toronto can keep the core four together long term, and include a mix of younger players and character guys, they will extend their window to win. Acciari knows how to deal with adversity as an undrafted rookie signed by the Bruins in 2015. He fought for his NHL career and has become a pro’s pro. This is exactly what the Maple Leafs need in their locker room for the next few years.
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Acciari has only been with the Maple Leafs for a bit over a month, but he has shown his worth, and he will always give you more value than his asking price. Acciari and Pontus Holmberg would be viable third- and fourth-line centers for the club for the next few seasons. He also has provided the team with excellent penalty killing, adding depth to an already above-average penalty-kill unit.
The question is, will the Maple Leafs attempt to re-sign him? The answer has to be yes. They should do everything in their power to retain his services for the next couple of seasons.