The Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled to start the season. Over and over again Sheldon Keefe has been demanding his team to generate more “dirty” goals. Those goals that come with a few bruises, the ones that hit off of a few bodies or require a little extra digging in the blue paint. You know, the kind of goals that Zach Hyman scores. Hyman has six goals and two assists with his new team, the Edmonton Oilers, who are out to a 7-1 start to the 2021-2022 season. Toronto’s core four have combined for eight goals. The Maple Leafs let him walk, actually, they showed him the door, a decision that is already haunting them.
Hyman has fit right in with the Oilers and the city of Edmonton. On a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draistail star power, there are plenty of #97 and #29 jerseys around town and in the arena. But there has been a recent and noticeable influx of #18 jerseys in the stands. That’s because the Oilers-faithful is seeing the second coming of one of the most beloved players in franchise history – Ryan Smyth.
Hyman Scores the Goals the Leafs Need
Hyman was recently asked about that comparison, he chuckled while talking about how much he respects Smyth and his style of play. Hyman was asked about scoring the tough goals from the one-inch line, “I love it.” He said with a big smile, “even before I got to the NHL, go to the net if you want to score goals, that was always the mentality. That was the best way for me to score, just go to the net and bang some rebounds in. Sometimes it hits off you sometimes it hits off a skate, it doesn’t matter”
Compare that quote to what Keefe recently said the team is missing, “we generated a lot of scoring opportunities. A lot of very clean looks at the goaltender, but we don’t want them to always be so clean. We need other people to get around the net. We need to get some deflections. We need to get loose pucks in and around the cage.” The head coach could’ve saved time and just said the Leafs need Hyman.
Maple Leafs Wouldn’t Sign a No Movement Clause
There’s speculation the Maple Leafs could not come to terms with Hyman because he was looking for a no-movement clause. It’s understandable a team may take a pause with that request given the type of game Hyman plays and his history of injuries. However, let’s not forget the Maple Leafs need to win now, even advancing out of the first round would be a welcome change. The Oilers with a similar roster age and makeup proved they are in win-now mode. Edmonton saw the value of Hyman, signing him to a 7-year deal worth $38.5 million with a full NMC for five years and a modified NMC for the remaining two years of the contract.
Maple Leafs Had More Than Enough Money
It was also believed Toronto just could not afford him. Hyman was being paid $2.25 million a season in Toronto. Edmonton is now paying him $5.5 million, an increase of $3.25 million. Toronto did have the money but simply chose to spend it elsewhere. Kyle Dubas signed a backup goalie, Petr Mrazek, to a $3.8 million per year deal. Then the general manager spent $2.5 million a season on Nick Ritchie, hoping he would be a replacement of Hyman. He also re-signed Wayne Simmonds, who has failed at his role of a net-front presence.
The general manager signed Kurtis Gabriel hoping he would be the grit the lineup was missing with the loss of Hyman. The only deal that turned out was Michael Bunting who was signed to, you guessed it – replace Hyman. You can’t help but wonder what this team would look like with Hyman and Bunting.
|Zach Hyman||$5.5 million|
|Petr Mrazek||$3.8 million|
|Alex Kerfoot||$3.5 million|
|Nick Ritchie||$2.5 million|
We could go through several scenarios to prove the organization could’ve easily made room for such an important part of the team. For example, Alexander Kerfoot is making $3.5 million. That contract, plus the money paid to Ritchie equals Hyman’s deal. Is there anyone who wouldn’t take Hyman for Kerfoot and Ritchie?
The list goes on and on. It’s clear that not signing Hyman is a significant lost opportunity to have a one-of-a-kind, heart and soul player. He becomes the latest fatality in a long string of casualties caused by the core four contracts that take up half of the allotted salary cap. The Maple Leafs spent so much time looking for a substitution when they could’ve had the original, authentic, real thing Hyman. The grass isn’t always greener.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.