Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has some tough decisions to make this offseason. Perhaps there’s none bigger than the contract status of forward Zach Hyman, who is set to hit the open market on July 28. While there’s been a ton of speculation brewing regarding the contract talks and perhaps other teams getting involved, Leafs Nation should have some faith in their GM. Given several reasons we’ll dive into, I’m predicting the Maple Leafs re-sign Hyman to a multi-year deal.
If You Want to Predict the Future, Start With the Past
Over Dubas’ tenure at the helm of the Leafs, he’s had some well-documented contract negotiations and quite frankly doesn’t get the credit he deserves for getting pen to paper. Let’s start with some light reading. We can go back to July 2018, Justin Holl’s contract for two seasons at $675,000 – done deal. How about December 2018, William Nylander’s now very valuable contract? While the back and forth may have lasted a touch longer than everyone wanted, Dubas still managed to get the job done. In fact, the way the contract was structured has really benefited the team, considering Nylander’s cap hit is under $7 million for another three seasons.
Another under-the-radar contract was Trevor Moore’s in Jan. 2019. Moore showed well at the AHL level and in his audition with the Maple Leafs in 2018, so Dubas turned around and extended him for two seasons at $775,000. If you remember, Moore was the main piece the Leafs departed with in the trade with the Los Angeles Kings to acquire Kyle Clifford and, oh yeah, the Leafs starting goaltender Jack Campbell.
We also can’t discredit the big tickets. The likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are both signed long-term in Toronto. Dubas said he could and he would, and sure enough, he did. These two players are cornerstone pieces for the franchise and while they make up a big percentage of the Leafs’ salary cap, they are elite players in the league -that’s what happens. Marner was named first-team all-star and finished fourth in the league in points in 2020-21. Meanwhile, Matthews won the Rocket Richard trophy and finished fifth in the NHL in points. Leafs Nation may complain about expensive players, but when they are two of the very best in the league, you deal with it and move on, being happy they wear your favorite team’s colors.
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For good measure, let’s give Dubas some credit for his second extension with Holl at three years and $2 million per season. This contract is looking like an absolute steal now. What about Travis Dermott signing for $874,125, which was a tremendous bargain last summer. Let’s top this all off with the Leafs’ general manager providing the presentation of a lifetime to free agent John Tavares, who was being pursued by four other teams heavily. Sure, it helped that Tavares had a lifelong love for the team, but let’s give the executive some due here for closing the deal after only being on the job for a couple of months. Plain and simple, Dubas closes deals.
Maple Leafs Won’t Contradict Themselves This Summer
After the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, team president Brendan Shanahan mentioned they needed more killer instinct. So what, now the team will let the one player you never have to question leave the team? Hyman never takes a shift off and has the ability to play up and down the lineup in any role. You can add in the power-play time and time killing penalties, and Hyman is packing much more than just some killer instinct. He’s a heart and soul player for the Leafs who is more valuable than most players on their roster, some combined.
Based on the narrative the management team set for themselves in their exit interviews and what we’ve seen since day one of his arrival via a trade with the Florida Panthers for Greg McKegg, Hyman has become an invaluable player for the franchise and someone who won’t be going anywhere.
Multiple Factors Weighing in on this Contract Extension
Some of the hold up on getting the contract completed could be pointed in the direction of the expansion draft as the Seattle Kraken select their team a week before free agency begins. If the Maple Leafs end up leaving Alexander Kerfoot unprotected, his $3.5 million contract comes off the books, it makes extending Hyman a little bit easier. The team has just under $11 million in cap space with several holes to fill this summer. However, Hyman should be considered priority No. 1 and from the sounds of it, he is. Even if Kerfoot stays through the expansion draft, Toronto will lose a player and gain at least a touch more wiggle room.
There have also been talks of a major shakeup for the Maple Leafs, and the one name that keeps popping up in trade talks is defenseman Morgan Rielly. The long-time Leaf is set to make $5 million in the last season of his contract and if he is moved over the course of the next few weeks, it could provide Dubas with even more cap space to work with. This money could be allocated over to Hyman’s extension and now the Leafs have their first line back together and maybe another impact player for the team’s second line with Tavares and Nylander via the Rielly deal.
As far as external factors that could come into play with these contract negotiations, look no further than the Edmonton Oilers for a couple of reasons. First, there’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ new deal. The team signed RNH to an eight-year deal worth $41 million, which was much less than he could have received on the open market. The player wanted job security and the general manager wanted value, both met in the middle. Dubas can show this blueprint to Hyman in hopes the children’s author is looking to write another chapter with the Maple Leafs.
There have also been some recent reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger that he wouldn’t be shocked if the Oilers called the Leafs asking about acquiring Hyman’s negotiation rights. While trading a potential top-prospect or first-round pick to gain access without a guaranteed deal would be a risk for Oilers general manager Ken Holland, it’s certainly a possibility. However, my gut tells me the Leafs have no interest in moving Hyman’s rights and are only looking to secure them for the foreseeable future.
The Maple Leafs will look a little bit different next season, but to me, it feels like their first line will be staying the same. I’m predicting Dubas shows off his negotiation skills and finalizes a contract extension with Hyman, keeping the hardest working Maple Leaf on their roster. While the expected interest will drive up the price from his $2.25 million salary last season, it’s not going to be enough for Toronto to walk away. Perhaps Hyman’s next book could be titled – “The Grass Isn’t Always Greener on the Other Side.” It’s greener where you water it, kids.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween