Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Muzzin, Bunting & Kadri

What the Toronto Maple Leafs needed coming out of the Christmas break was some good news about the health of its players. What it got instead is the news that another player has now tested positive for COVID-19. There were 12 Maple Leafs’ players and personnel on the protocol list going into Christmas and the 13th – Jake Muzzin – was added this morning. 

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In short, the news is not good for the Maple Leafs. Although the NHL’s holiday break has been extended, still the Maple Leafs will likely be missing key roster players coming out of the break. Even if the virus is largely asymptomatic, still one would think it would take a week or so to run its course in each player and move on. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at one more addition to the team’s COVID-19 protocol list. I’ll also look at the contributions of one of the new players on the team – Michael Bunting.

Item One: Jake Muzzin Joins the List for COVID-19 Protocols

News this morning was that Jake Muzzin had been added to the list of Maple Leafs’ players put into COVID-19 protocols. Counting coaches and support staff, Muzzin is now the 14th Maple Leafs added to the COVID-19 protocol. As far as I know now, that list includes Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek, Rasmus Sandin, John Tavares, Alexander Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Brodie, Travis Dermott, and Jack Campbell. The list also includes head coach Sheldon Keefe, Spencer Carbery, and goalie coach Steve Briere. 

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

An additional issue for the Maple Leafs is that their Toronto Marlies’ affiliate has also experienced an outbreak, and the last I heard the Marlies had 10 players on the COVID-19 protocols as well. It’s hard to see the team putting together a roster, even supplementing it with AHL players. 

Item Two: The Emergence of Michael Bunting

When Michael Bunting signed with the Maple Leafs, it was sort of under the radar for many fans. Here’s a player who spent six seasons in the Arizona Coyotes’ AHL organization and had barely played in the NHL. When he was brought up to the Coyotes at the end of last season, he did well. He scored 10 goals in 21 games but with an out-of-this-world 26.3 shooting percentage. Still untested, before he pulled on his first jersey in the Maple Leafs’ locker room, he had played only 26 games in the NHL.

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But general manager Kyle Dubas and coach Keefe knew him. He had been part of their Soo Greyhounds’ team in 2013-14 and in 2014-15. Both sides obviously jumped at the chance to reunite. In fact, the word was that Bunting took less money in his two-year, $1.9 million contract with the Maple Leafs than he was offered elsewhere. In addition, Toronto’s home.

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The thought was that the 25-year-old Bunting would compete for a regular job as a depth player in Toronto’s bottom six this season. What a surprise. Bunting has done more than expected. He’s become a fan favorite, and his physical, hard-working edge is just the kind of “greasy” play that fans appreciated from two previous Maple Leafs’ favorites – Zach Hyman and Nazem Kadri. 

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But Bunting is different from both these players. Hyman was hard-working, but he wasn’t greasy in the way Bunting is. Hyman worked hard, but he never engaged play with the same physical edge Bunting plays with. In that way Bunting is more like Kadri. But there’s one big difference. While Kadri took penalties (at the wrong time), Bunting seems to draw them. 

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Nazem Kadri, now playing with the Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bunting seems to be smart that way. He gets under the skin of opponents, but he seldom crosses the line. Instead, he keeps his wits about him and lets the opponents retaliate. His shooting percentage is down to a more reasonable 11 percent, and he’s now occupying the left-wing spot on the team’s first line with Auston Matthew and another winger Ondrej Kase (who’s taken the injured Mitch Marner’s place). Over the season, Bunting’s averaged just under 15 minutes (14:44) and has been an absolute steal at under $1 million per season. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The fact that the Maple Leafs now have so many players on the COVID-19 protocols makes it unclear – at best – what will happen with the team’s schedule. The NHL had planned to resume play on the 28th of December, but that seems out of the question. It’s hard to imagine when this team will be able to ice any kind of a lineup.

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I’ll try to keep abreast of the situation and report more as I learn of it. The NHL has to be looking for some solutions. But, what they are now, who knows?