As has been documented and discussed ad nauseam, the Toronto Maple Leafs, under team president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas, have gone with a plan where the star core earns a majority of the team’s salary. Not only have they committed to that idea, but they have also added to it starting next season, with the extension of Morgan Rielly at $7.5 million per season.
What was a situation where the top four players on the roster earned 49.7 percent of their total cap space, next season they will have five players earning 58.9 percent of their cap space if the salary cap remains at the present $81.5 million. To make this plan work, Dubas is forced to sign players who are as talented as possible for as little money as possible. The players who end up on the roster have to play above their pay grade.
Whether the acquisitions Dubas has made this past offseason pass or fail will ultimately be determined by how the team performs in the playoffs. Our purpose in this post is to review how these players have performed and to assess what they’ve added during their time with the team in 2021.
New Player One: Michael Bunting (PASS)
The Maple Leafs signed Bunting to a two-year, $950,000 deal. During Bunting’s time with the team in 2021, he finished with seven goals and 12 assists (for 19 points) in 30 games played. Extending those numbers to 82 games, they would work out to 19 goals and 33 assists (for 52 points).
The Maple Leafs hoped, when they acquired Bunting, that he could play in the top-six to fill some of the holes left by the departure of Zach Hyman. Bunting has done that extremely well. He has four fewer goals, but the same number of points (19) that Hyman has for the Oilers, all for $4.5 million less than Hyman earns.
New Player Two: Ondrej Kase (PASS)
Signing right winger Ondrej Kase to a one-year $1.25 million deal was considered a real gamble by Dubas. Kase had only played nine games during the previous two seasons after suffering multiple concussions. What made the signing even more curious was that the Maple Leafs already had Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Ilya Mikheyev, and Wayne Simmonds filling the four right-wing spots on the roster.
To this point, signing Kase seems like a move of genius by Dubas. Not only has Kase remained healthy for the most part of the season but he’s filled in for the injured Mikheyev well. He’s also played well with his old childhood friend from the Czech Republic David Kampf on the third line. He’s killed penalties; he’s stepped into the left-wing in the team’s top-six when needed; and, everywhere he’s played, he’s played extremely well.
In addition, he’s absolutely low-maintenance. He never complains about any part he’s played on the team. During his 2021 games with the Maple Leafs, Kase scored eight goals and seven assists (for 15 points) in 27 games. That would be a 24-goal and 46-point pace over 82 games. He does it all earning exactly the same money as Pierre Engvall.
New Player Three: David Kampf (PASS)
David Kampf signed with the Maple Leafs for $1.5 million a season for two years, which was a 50 percent raise from his previous contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. That might have seemed like an overpay for a player who floated between the third and fourth line on a Blackhawks’ team that finished in the bottom third of the NHL this past season. And, the kicker was that Kampf scored a grand total of one goal last season.
All that has proved to be irrelevant. In his 2021 time with the Maple Leafs, Kampf has shown himself to be a solid third-line center on what has been a solid shut-down third line as well as a key player on a vastly-improved Toronto penalty kill.
Despite starting a NHL-high 87.5 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, Kampf is a positive in goals for (54.2 percent) and expected goals for (50.6 percent). As a bonus, he has four goals and five assists (for nine points). Two of those goals were against his former Blackhawks’ team, double what he scored for them last season.
New Player Four: Nick Ritchie (FAIL)
For a lot of fans, us included, Nick Ritchie seemed like the type of player the Maple Leafs needed. He was big at six-foot-two and 230 pounds, physical and averaged 2.5 hits per game, and had a history of goal-scoring. Last season, he scored 15 goals in 56 games for the Boston Bruins.
He does lead the Maple Leafs with 65 hits this season, but the goal-scoring part has never materialized. Ritchie has but one goal in 29 Maple Leafs’ games in 2021. Ritchie’s analytics are just the opposite of Kampf’s. Despite starting 62 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, he’s a negative in goals for (38.9 percent) and expected goals for (49.5 percent).
Ritchie’s shooting percentage is almost seven percent lower than his career shooting percentage at 2.3 percent. While that’s bound to rise, he has a long way to go to prove worthy of his $2.5 million salary-cap hit over two years.
New Player Five Petr Mrazek (FAIL)
Petr Mrazek was the teams’ biggest signee this offseason at $3.8 million a season for three seasons. His role was to be a 1B goalie, so the team could ease Jack Campbell’s workload and help him maintain his health. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way during 2021.
Because of injuries, Mrazek has played a grand total of 160 minutes spread over three games. It could be said that Mrazek can’t be blamed for getting hurt. However, he does have a history of injuries and only played 12 games last season for that reason. I don’t think anyone should be able to say they’re surprised he’s had injury issues in 2021.
Assessing the Five as a Group
According to our assessment, for the 2021 portion of this regular season, three of the players get passing grades, while two have been failures so far. This gives the Maple Leafs a general PASS on their offseason signings for 2021.
There’s still a lot of hockey remaining; and, with the emphasis being put on playoff success or failure, how the Maple Leafs fare in the postseason will be the real test of the 2021 offseason signings.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf