Kurtis Gabriel has signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If there ever was such a think as a character signing, Gabriel is it. It’s not like he’s going to score a ton of goals for team. He’s played in only 49 NHL games with three teams since the 2015-16 season (the Minnesota Wild, the New Jersey Devils, the San Jose Sharks). The Maple Leafs will be his fourth.
Related: Six Reasons Michael Bunting Took a Pay Cut to Come to the Maple Leafs
He only played in 11 games with the Sharks last season, and he didn’t score a point in the 7:40 TOI he averaged in each game. The 28-year-old winger is what’s best called a fourth-line enforcer. It’s a role he’ll likely continue with the Maple Leafs during the 2021-22 season. You get a sense of his game when you see that, in those 11 games, he racked up some interesting numbers. Specifically, he had 46 hits and 55 penalty minutes.
Kurtis Gabriel, from Nearby Newmarket, Is Coming Home
The information above gives some of the hockey-player information about Gabriel. However, after you get past the news that he signed a one-year, one-way $750,000 contract, that only tells part of the story. Another part is that Gabriel is going to play with his hometown Maple Leafs. The 28-year-old forward played hockey with the Newmarket Minor Hockey Association before going on the play eight years of professional hockey. He’s happy to be in Toronto.
The second part is that the Maple Leafs were waiting to sign him and did it on the first day of free agency. And Gabriel is excited to be playing with his new and old team. Gabriel posted a photo of himself July 28 on his own Twitter account showing himself as a youngster wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. The caption read: “How it started vs. how it’s going.”
Gabriel noted he “Can’t put it (how he feels) into words.” You get the feeling that Gabriel hopes his bouncing around days – from NHL team to NHL team and between the AHL and the NHL – are over. You have a sense that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is also happy to have Gabriel around. First reason, he signed Gabriel to a one-way contract. He’s staying on the Maple Leafs’ roster. Second reason, Dubas said that he likes everything Gabriel is about.
Dubas noted that, “We know what we’re going to get from him in terms of his effort level, his passion, every single day. We’re excited to have him and think he’ll add a lot to our whole organization both on the ice and off the ice.”
Related: Nick Ritchie Signs 2-Year Contract with Maple Leafs [Report]
Off the Ice, Gabriel Has Become Recognized for His Social Advocacy
Gabriel has earned notoriety in recent years for his social advocacy efforts. He scored a game-winning NHL goal in 2019 wearing rainbow, pride-themed hockey tape. To this day, his stick is rainbow-taped. He’s become an advocate for hockey as an inclusive space, which is a reason (as noted above) that he was a finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
You know you’ve made an impact on others – whether they play for your team or an opponents – when your old team tweets out a note that says “Thank you, Kurtis Gabriel. We will always support and stand by you in your efforts to make this game a place for everyone.” Even his old team is rooting for him and appreciates his work.
Gabriel Brings Unrelenting Passion to the Game
In an interview just after Gabriel was signed,he spoke about his hockey strength, which he named as the ‘unrelenting passion’ he’ll bring to the Maple Leafs. The new forward says he has “passion to burn;” and, being a Toronto-area kid – similar to Wayne Simmonds and Michael Bunting – he’s been taught to bring grit to the team.
I encourage Maple Leafs’ fans to listen to the interview below. It’s a revealing portrait of a Toronto-area hockey player who’s coming home to play for his home team.
What Can Fans Expect?
What can Maple Leafs’ fans expect? As Gabriel puts it in his own words, “I’m bringing everything I got. And then some more.”
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