If you take a look around social media or listen to insiders after Toronto lost 7-3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, there are two schools of thought from most of Leafs Nation: the officiating was to blame, or this was on Michael Bunting who took another stupid penalty and has become Nazem Kadri 2.0 in Toronto.
** Update: Bunting has been suspended for three games.
Bunting is going through the process of a hearing with the NHL DoPS for his elbow to Erik Cernak which knocked Cernak out of the game (potentially the series) and came with a match penalty to Bunting and ended his evening. It was a dumb and untimely play by Bunting that seems to fit perfectly in line with the reputation he’s built for himself this season as a whiner, cheapshot artist, and target for NHL officials.
Of course, all of this comes at the worst possible time for Bunting. He’s a pending UFA at the end of the season and he’s projected to be one of the more sought-after targets for a number of teams that need a forward in a not-so-deep free-agent class. The play Bunting made on Tuesday is the type of play GMs notice, and usually not for the right reasons. Even in Toronto, there’s talk about how much ice time Bunting will see if he comes back in time to play more games. Can he be trusted to walk the line and not cross over it? There’s real doubt about that.
This is not to suggest that one play makes Bunting less desirable to other GMs that might want to consider him this summer. But, this isn’t just one play. This is a series of decisions from a talented player who, as Nick Kypreos said, “It has been a big struggle for Michael Bunting finding his place.” Justin Bourne took it a step further and suggested he’s struggling to find his place in the league.
Kypreos argued that Bunting hasn’t quite figured out when to push and pull, when to engage and when to back off, and that he doesn’t know what the mission is and that emotion just overtakes him. Kypreos wanted to know who from the Maple Leafs is watching that and who is in his ear trying to keep him on track. He said there’s more responsibility required from the team to keep Bunting in check. But, is that fair? Should it be on teammates and organizations to coach that kind of issue out of him?
Even more importantly, does another team want to have to take that on? How valuable is someone you have to pay millions of dollars to and babysit? Someone will inevitably take this contract on. Perhaps like Kadri, Bunting figures it out. But will teams rush the altar to get married to a long-term contract with a player who might be viewed as a liability?
Next: Maple Leafs Get Clobbered by Lightning: What Can Be Improved?
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April 19, 2023 at 5:37 pm
C’mon, this is the NHL. Pretty sure someone will sign him in a heartbeat.