Perhaps not too many people care, but I liked what Zach Aston-Reese brought to the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Commonly known as ZAR, he was invited by the team to a PTO (professional try out) and then signed a one-year, $840,630 contract as a free agent last offseason out of training camp.
ZAR Was Always Part of the Bottom Six Unit
ZAR was initially brought in to bolster an all-defense fourth line that would work with center David Kämpf and winger Nicholas Aube-Kubel. However, the line just didn’t perform well. Aube-Kubel was the first to leave and then Kampf was promoted to the third line. ZAR held his spot on the fourth line.
The team must have liked what Kampf brought to the third-line center spot because he was re-signed in July for a raise. He’ll likely stay in that spot.
On the other hand, ZAR played 77 games during the season and averaged fourth-line minutes – just under 11 minutes (actually, 10 minutes and 56 seconds) each game. Surprisingly, he also scored in double digits – pumping in 10 goals mostly from short range later during the season.
He also played in six playoff games for Toronto, with one goal and one assist.
ZAR Tries Not to Allow Anything to Happen During His Shift
Aston-Reese’s value lies in his simple mantra. He works hard and physically and tries like crazy not to allow the other team to score when he’s on the ice. When he’s effective, he maintains that “nothing happens while I’m on the ice” style.
That aligned with the kind of roster that former Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas worked hard to put together. The top-six unit was for scoring goals, but the bottom-six was for preventing goals from being scored.
From what I saw, ZAR played his role as a defensively strong forward well enough. His analytics were strong enough, despite his lack of attention to his own offensive output. In fact, he went on a 39-game drought when his offensive contributions were limited to three points, even at 11 minutes a night.
Solid defensively, he really only picked up his offense later in the season.
So What About a Contract for This Season?
I have a feeling that ZAR will get another contract somewhere, but not with the Maple Leafs. The issue is that the team has too many young players on the bubble – they need to stay. These young players need to have a chance to play. Altough they have been with the Marlies, they haven’t had much of a chance with the big club. It would be nice to see them have a chance to prove they could stay.
If the Maple Leafs signed Aston-Reese, it would likely NOT be the amount of money on the contract. It would seem that, because he is what he is as a player that – although he’s probably going to find employment – it would not likely be at a high salary.
Aston-Reese’s contract will probably be similar to the deal he signed last year with the Maple Leafs. He’d make under $1. As the 12th or 13th forward on a good team, that would be about what one would make.
I Will Miss Aston-Reese, But Also Want to Support the Prospects
What I liked about Aston-Reese is that he played hard and did his role. Someone out there will want a player exactly as he is. But, unless I an surprised he won’t get a conctract in Toronto.
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