If the Toronto Maple Leafs do, in fact, lose Zach Hyman in free agency, the team has a big decision to make. Do they try to replace his production with one forward? Or, do they look at a couple of players to come in and do the heavy lifting by committee? The $6 million the Leafs are not spending on Hyman if he leaves could be used in a variety of ways.
Realistically, the team probably ballparked about $4.5 million – $5 million for Hyman on an extension. That’s the better number to play with if your Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas. The idea is to find the best way to use the money you had allotted for the gritty and productive forward and find as close a player or players as you can.
Since there aren’t many players available on the free agent market who can do what Hyman does — that’s why he’s so valued — there are a few players who could be had, where the sum of their parts works out to be (maybe) as good as the whole. Chris Johnston was recently on Sportsnet 590 and noted, “I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to sign one player that does all the things Zach Hyman did.” There’s other talk that Dubas is going to target 25 or 26-year-old forwards that fell through the cracks on other teams.
If that’s the case, there are a few names that stand out on the free agent board:
At 26 years old, Andreas Athanasiou is coming off a pretty decent season with the Los Angeles Kings, but he’s far removed from the 30-goal scorer that played for the Detroit Red Wings in 2018-19. He’s fast, he can score and he’s got the ability to play with elite-level players. He could be a nice fit with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner if the Leafs put those two together next season.
Athanasiou is coming off a season where he was paid $1.2 million. He gambled on himself by walking away from an arbitration offer from the Edmonton Oilers and it didn’t really pay off. He took a pay cut and now he’s in a situation where he needs to find the right fit, up his production and make himself valued again.
Perhaps he re-signs with the Los Angeles Kings, but the Kings are talking about some pretty big moves this summer. If that pans out, Athanasiou might be an afterthought.
Also 26, Wennberg might not be a player who slips through the cracks like some other names after the season he had in Florida. With 17 goals and 29 points in 56 games, he’s a nice option that the Maple Leafs could use at the center ice position, where the Leafs found themselves lacking in depth after John Tavares went down with an injury.
The Maple Leafs could lose Alexander Kerfoot in the expansion draft and, if so, will be looking for a replacement. Wennberg is coming off a contract that paid him $2.25 million.
A player who really risked it all this season and found out the hard way the flat cap is a real problem for players whose value isn’t as high as they thought it might be, Anthony Duclair tried to rep himself in free agency this past offseason and had to wait a long time before he finally got a $1.7 million deal from the Florida Panthers.
He had a decent 2020-21 season, scoring 10 goals and 31 points in 43 games. This is also a player who posted a 20-goal season with the Arizona Coyotes and a 23-goal season with the Ottawa Senators. With a high-end center, Duclair could do well for a team who might not have to invest all that much. For between $1.5 and $2 million, the Maple Leafs could have a 20-plus goal guy flying around their top six.
He produced literally nothing for the Panthers during the playoffs, so their final thoughts on him to close the season might not be all that positive.
Will the Edmonton Oilers bring back Dominik Kahun next season? That’s a good question. In what might be seen as a failed experiment to pair him with fellow German-born buddy Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers didn’t use Kahun consistently as the season wound down. He may not be back.
Kahun hasn’t proven to be a consistent goal scorer in the NHL, but he may be the type of player that needs a real opportunity with top-tier guys to show he can turn it up a notch. He played a few games with Connor McDavid this past season and didn’t look completely out of place. That said, he played next-to-no minutes on the penalty kill, so this is a player who you look at simply for his potential offensive upside.
Kahun is a low-cost add that might not be a regular in your lineup. If it works, there could be a good payoff. If it doesn’t you wasted a contract.
Coming off a season with the Pittsburgh Penguins where he scored four goals and potted 11 points in 45 games, Jankowski is not a player many teams will be looking at closely this summer. But, he’s had two seasons of 14 and 17 goals with the Calgary Flames, can penalty kill and might be a decent depth option.
He’s versatile, but not much of a physical presence so he’ll lack the physical aspect of the game Hyman brought. The Penguins are looking to get bigger and more physical under Brian Burke and Ron Hextall, so Jankowski might not get a long look under the new regime.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”