It appears the Toronto Maple Leafs will undergo a drastic overhaul this offseason.
"It’s my understanding at this point that some of the veteran players that have been with the Leafs that are UFAs like Alex Kerfoot, Justin Holl, Michael Bunting even… that they won’t be back,” Johnston said.
Bunting outperformed a two-year, $1.9 million contract he signed with the Maple Leafs in July 2021. The 27-year-old winger primarily played with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner before being demoted to a bottom-six role in favour of Calle Jarnkrok when his production tailed off in March.
A tenacious forward with excellent puck-retrieval skills, Bunting posted 23 goals and 49 points playing in all 82 regular season contests while leading the NHL with 41 penalties drawn at 5-on-5.
Bunting earned a three-game suspension during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after delivering a hit to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak, calling into question whether he played himself out of a lucrative, new deal. Upon returning to the lineup, Bunting was once again one of the Maple Leafs' best forwards before the team was eliminated by the Florida Panthers in five games during the second round. Bunting told reporters at the Maple Leafs' end-of-season media availability that he did not discuss an extension during the regular season.
"I'll let my agent handle that stuff and be ready to make a decision when the time comes," Bunting said on May 15. "That being said, coming home to play in Toronto was a dream of mine since I was a kid, to play for this team and put the jersey over my head. It's been pretty special to play here and it's been even more special meeting this group of guys."
Kerfoot was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Nazem Kadri trade on Canada Day 2019 and he played a number of roles with the Maple Leafs, being deployed throughout the lineup at even strength. He was used on the penalty kill and the Maple Leafs tried to weaponize his excellent top-line speed to middling results. The 28-year-old was regarded as a leader in the community. He’s likely looking for an upgrade on the $3.5 million year annual average value he earned on a four-year deal upon being traded to the Maple Leafs.
It’s also possible the Maple Leafs have considered both players expendable with 20-year-old Matthew Knies poised for a top-six assignment, while Nick Robertson will be afforded one last chance to make a major impact on the roster.
Holl became a polarizing figure with the Maple Leafs. He was one of Sheldon Keefe’s favourite players and played the most penalty kill minutes of any Maple Leafs player in 2022-23. The free-wheeling defenceman was often a defensive liability and was on the ice for 18 goals against during the postseason.
Holl was briefly benched before factoring back into the final three games of the Maple Leafs’ series against the Panthers. The 31-year-old carried a $2 million cap hit for the past two seasons and it’ll be compelling to see if another team pays Holl handsomely for being a right-handed blue liner capable of eating major minutes, while also being prone to fatal defensive lapses.
July 1 is shaping up to be one of the most important days in recent Maple Leafs history, and it appears it will also mark the end of the line for three mainstays of the Matthews-Marner era.