Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Hyman, Knies, Cizikas & Dubas

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll comment on news about Zach Hyman’s move to the Edmonton Oilers. I’ll share what I’ve learned about new draftee Matthew Knies, and I’ll offer a idea that UFA Casey Cizikas might be a replacement for Hyman.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dubas’ Hot Seat & Losing McCann & Hyman

Finally, I’ll share that a new side of Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas seems to be emerging. He’s upset and showing some intransigence in his dealings with Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland, who wants to sign Hyman to an eight-year term to minimize the salary-cap hit over the term of Hyman’s contract.

Item One: So Long, Zach Hyman

Maple Leafs’ left-winger Zach Hyman seems all but signed, sealed, and delivered to the Edmonton Oilers. He’s going to become a free agent on July 28, for what seems like a few minutes. As James Mirtle of The Athletic reports, he’ll then sign with the Oilers. (from “Zach Hyman won’t return to Maple Leafs, expected to join Oilers: Sources,” James Mirtle, The Athletic, 23/07/21).

Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Maple Leafs’ general manager gave Hyman and his agent Todd Reynolds permission to talk terms with the Oilers prior to the opening of free agency next week. It’s believed that the 29-year-old winger will either sign a seven-year or an eight-year contract with the Oilers that will pay him between $5-5.5 million per season. 

As much as the Maple Leafs would like to keep Hyman, they simply couldn’t match the kind of money or the term the Oilers were willing to pay for Hyman. Right now, it seems as if a potential sign-and-trade is being negotiated between the Maple Leafs and the Oilers prior to the deadline. If that falls through, the Oilers will only be able to sign Hyman to a seven-year maximum contract, which would force them to sign Hyman to a contract with a higher salary-cap hit.

Well, I admit it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I predicted that Hyman would stay in Toronto because he had such close ties to his community, because he had a young family, and because he was such a strong part of the team. 

I even did my research carefully, looking for what drove his choices. I found that his children’s books encouraged loyalty, the courage to live one’s dream, and the idea of accomplishing something important. My error was that I simply assumed those would play out with his hometown team. 

Related: NHL Owners: Who Are They?

The Maple Leafs will miss Hyman (as will I). He was a professional with a huge work ethic: how can you not appreciate the drive and dogged desire he delivered night after night? I hope he does well with the Oilers. 

Item Two: Maple Leafs Seek Another Star in the Desert – Matthew Knies

Maple Leafs’ star center Auston Matthews is one of the few NHL players to come out of Arizona. However, it looks like the Maple Leafs hope to find another star from the Grand Canyon State. With their 57th pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the team picked up Matthew Knies. Maple Leafs’ fans can only hope this draft pick works out almost as well as the other Matthew(s). 

Knies has size, at 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds. But the word on him is that he’s always going to be a winger because he has a tough time creating his own offense and needs a strong center to feed him the puck. He’s a shooter with a better than average offensive skill set. He didn’t light up the league during his second USHL season, scoring only 42 points in 44 games. However, he had a strong final month of the season. Knies seems like a bit of a flyer, but the Maple Leafs were ready to take the chance on him.

One advantage is that Knies is a player the organization likely knows well because Ryan Hardy, their new Senior Director of Minor League Operations, would have seen him play regularly in the USHL.

Item Three: Might Casey Cizikas Be a Replacement for Zach Hyman?

Casey Cizikas is a 30-year-old UFA who’s played 10 seasons with the New York Islanders. He’s only 5-foot-11, but he’s a solid 195 pounds. On top of that, he’s from Toronto. Although he’s only scored 81 goals and 104 assists (for 185 points) in 590 games, he did score 20 goals during the 2018-19 season. 

Related: NWHL 2021 Draft Recap

I have to thank my regular collaborator Stan Smith for putting me onto Cizikas. Stan notes that what first caught his attention was that he averaged 135 hits a season over the last eight seasons. He also watched some of his highlights and found Cizikas to be a physical player. One highlight showed him hitting Alex Galchenyuk into the Canadiens’ bench, over the boards. One thing was obvious: Cizikas lives in front of the opposition net.  

Casey Cizikas New York Islanders
Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Cizikas is coming off of a five-year contract with a $3.35 million AAV. He was drafted by the Islanders in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (92nd overall). There are a number of center/left-winger types out there; but, only a few fall in the price range the Maple Leafs can afford or play a game similar to Hyman’s. Cizikas fits that bill, is well-known to John Tavares, and is from Toronto. 

Might there be some interest? 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

One interesting thing is happening with Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas in his negotiations with the Oilers. He’s showing a pile of tenacity. There’s a chance that he won’t make a deal with the Oilers so that Hyman will have that extra season on his maximum deal. 

Related: Maple Leafs Fans Continuing Love Affair with Felix Potvin

How that works out remains to be seen, although it would be fun for Maple Leafs’ fans to be able to compare whatever value Dubas could get from Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland to Hyman’s Oilers’ career. More on that later.