Former Leafs winger explains why he chose to sign in Carolina this summer

Published August 16, 2023 at 11:48

Michael Bunting had a fantastic start to his NHL career and he really gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a different look on the top line with superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Bunting was drafted in 2014 by the Arizona Coyotes but didn't make his NHL debut until 2018-19 and officially started his rookie season in 2021-22 with Toronto.

He scored 23 goals and 63 points in 79 games, had 80 PIMs, 175 shots, averaged 15:33 TOI, and finished 85 checks along the way. He developed great chemistry with Matthews and Marner and he even finished 3rd in Calder Trophy voting. He had some issues in replicating those numbers in 2022-23 - a contract year - but still managed 23 goals and 49 points in 82 games.

However, the issues with Bunting were very present and prevalent and it generally came at the expense of the referees. He found himself in hot water several times with the officials, so much so, that it almost felt like they were purposely targeting him if he was ever in a skirmish or a tussle. Incidents started to mount, penalties started to increase, and he almost became a liability.

The icing on top of the cake was when he received a match penalty in Game 1 of the first round against Tampa Bay and was then subsequently suspended for 3 games. Ironically the Leafs won all 3 games and had the Lightning on the brink of elimination when he was ready to join them again.

The writing was on the wall that the Leafs were not willing to overpay to retain his services - if they wanted to retain them in the first place. He was serviceable and he carried intangibles that were severely lacking elsewhere in the lineup but the penalties and somewhat boneheaded mistakes were too costly.

He signed with the Carolina Hurricanes during free agency on a 3-year contract worth 4.5 million annually. He has no qualms about the Maple Leafs but is excited about his new venture:

"I really enjoyed my time in Toronto. It's home here, I grew up a Leafs fan, so I will always cherish that. But I'm really excited to start my next chapter with Carolina."

With the Leafs not really talking shop and the Hurricanes calling, he was fairly excited about the opportunity:

"It wasn't a lot of contract talk that went on during the season... then once the offseason came along... didn't really hear much... you kinda just figured that it wasn't going to work... it was just quick talks, nothing extensive."

"[Joining Carolina] was almost like a no brainer to me. Obviously, they they've been very close for a long time. And I feel like I'm going to be able to help them hopefully get over that hump. I feel like they fit my game as well, just kind of a fast in your face and (an) offensive flying kind of game. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds here."

The Hurricanes were busy this off-season as they also acquired Dmitry Orlov, Tony DeAngelo, and Caleb Jones to add to their Eastern Conference finalist squad. Bunting should play an important role in the Hurricanes top-9 as he looks to regain his 2021-22 form in short order.

August 16   |   313 answers
Former Leafs winger explains why he chose to sign in Carolina this summer

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