Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Cheap UFAs, Coleman, Goodrow & Bunting

In yesterday’s edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I looked at what internal unrestricted free agents (UFAs) the organization might sign. Today, I want to look at three possible UFA targets the team might choose to pursue. Those three include center Blake Coleman and Toronto-native wingers Barclay Goodrow from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Michael Bunting, a little-known forward who’s only played 26 games with the Arizona Coyotes.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Which Internal UFAs Will Dubas Re-Sign?

To give credit where credit is due, I have to thank one of THW’s readers and a great Maple Leafs’ fan who goes by the handle BossSause. He invited me down the bunny trail of looking at both Coleman and Goodrow when he sent me the following note.

BossSause noted thatColeman scored two of the most incredible goals of the year last season before he was traded from New Jersey to Tampa at the deadline. Actually, Goodrow, also playing for Tampa, is also going to be a free agent and would more than likely accept a cap-friendly contract.”

Malcolm Subban Chicago Blackhawks
Malcolm Subban, Chicago Blackhawks and Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

BossSause also added that “Tampa has to reduce its salary because (Nikita) Kucherov will count in their cap totals next season. Boy, Dubas would knock it out of the park if he could land those two guys. They are very industrious players, and both have championship experience.”

I was put onto Bunting when I read a June 6 article from LeafsNation where their cadre of writers were asked “What change would you like to see made this off-season?” There Jon Steitzer mentioned Scarborough-native Michael Bunting as a target he’d go after if he were the Maple Leafs’ general manager.

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As I’ve often noted, one nice thing about covering the Maple Leafs is that the team has great fans who cheer for the team and many good writers who cover the team. So often, something someone writes about sends me off on an interesting little research adventure. That was especially true for today’s post.

Player #1: Blake Coleman

Blake Coleman was chosen during round three (75th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He’s only 5’11, but he’s a solid player at 200 pounds who plays with an edge. Similar to Zach Hyman, he battles for and general wins the puck during on-ice contestations along the boards.

Coleman hasn’t been a top-six player with the Lightning during the past two seasons, but he was a 20-goal scorer during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons with the New Jersey Devils before the Lightning picked him up at the trade deadline in 2020. He can provide secondary scoring at any level and perhaps more if played higher in the lineup. It’s my guess that his offensive statistics have been shaped by his deployment on the two teams he’s played on.

Where Colemen is really adept is playing short-handed. He’s both a good shot-blocker and has recorded 13 short-handed points throughout his career.

It’s hard to say what it might cost to sign Coleman to a contract. Currently he’s making $1.8 million a season and has for the past three seasons. Speculation is that he’ll be seeking about $2.5 million on this next contract. Who knows how that might change in the era of COVID.

Coleman also brings the great playoff experience that he’s gained playing for the Lightning. Assuming Zach Hyman signs with the team, Coleman might seem redundant. However, Hyman is one of those players where having two of him would be better than having only one. He’s that flexible.

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

As my sources suggest, Coleman likes to play physical hockey both throughout the regular season and during the playoffs. He’s also willing to sacrifice and pay the price to win games. Those characteristics are something any NHL team needs if it is to prosper during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Player #2: Barclay Goodrow

Barclay Goodrow is an undrafted 28-year-old Toronto native who began his NHL career with the San Jose Sharks in 2014 and played six seasons there before he too was moved to the Lightning at the 2019 trade deadline. He’s not as talented or skilled a player as Coleman, but like Coleman he’s willing to play physical hockey – to hit and be hit.

Related: Beauts Free Agent Camp Filled with Optimism, Familiar Faces

At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he uses his size well. He’s also a shot-blocker and could become a strong physical depth player on the Maple Leafs’ roster. Currently, Goodrow’s on an expiring contract at $925,000 and could likely be signed in Toronto for not much more than that.

Player #3: Michael Bunting

Michael Bunting’s been a surprise. He had a breakout half a season with the Coyotes by scoring 10 goals in 21 games after he was called up to Arizona from the team’s Tucson affiliate midway during the 2020-21 season. What’s perhaps most interesting about him from my perspective is that he played with the Soo Greyhounds during the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 seasons when Kyle Dubas was the general manager and Sheldon Keefe was the coach there.

Similar to Coleman and Goodrow, the 25-year-old Toronto-area native (Scarborough) would likely work hard to gain more NHL ice time given his history of kicking around in the minors. Bunting was drafted by the Coyotes during the fourth round (117th overall) of the 2014 NHL’s Entry Draft.

Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting when he played in the Soo [photo: Terry Wilson/OHL Images]

During Bunting’s breakout (half a) season, he scored 10 goals and three assists (for 13 points) in the 21 games he played. Bunting’s just coming off a $737,500 contract and is a UFA. Given his connections to the city of Toronto and with Keefe and Dubas, I can’t see why the organization wouldn’t at least see if he’d be interested in signing with the Maple Leafs.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Prospects Abramov & Kallgren

Similar to other teams, the Maple Leafs need players who can add secondary scoring to their bottom-six. He might be another flyer that Dubas likes to take a chance at signing, especially because – although it’s a small sample size – Bunting put the puck in the net so efficiently. There’s a chance he’d fight hard to stay on the ice in front of friends and family at home in Toronto.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

What fans can’t know yet is how many of the teams current UFA’s are desired by the team. The organization already contains a number of young prospects – the first one that comes to mind is Joey Anderson – who might benefit from a trial on the big club. Adam Brooks has shown he can score in the NHL. It would be nice also to give these two and others have a bigger chance to make the team.

Adam Brooks Toronto Maple Leafs
Adam Brooks, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

How the organization will work to fill in the team’s depth given the huge chunk of allocated salary cap is a question going forward. Could the team move one of its big four? Is Frederik Andersen all but gone? How much might Hyman cost?

Those are all questions to be answered within the next two months. I’m looking forward to those answers.