In our latest post that identify players that could be potential acquisition targets for the Washington Capitals this offseason, we’re going to take a look at pending unrestricted free agent left-wing Michael Bunting, who is currently playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Washington looking at reshaping and retooling their roster for the 2023-24 season, adding a top-six forward with a scoring touch is at the top of the list of priorities for GM Brian MacLellan.
The statistics and salary cap information used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, CapFriendly, Dobber Sports, and Evolving Hockey. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary.
With Anthony Mantha struggling to cement a top-six role, let alone an everyday NHL role after getting scratched in Washington’s 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Friday, the 27-year-old addresses the need Mantha is failing to fulfill.
Bunting has primarily played with center Auston Matthews and left-wing William Nylander (381:48) but Mitch Marner has also played quite some time with him and Matthews (236:12).
With 43 goals in 147 games over the last two seasons (tied for 90th in the NHL), Bunting will give Washington, who is slightly below league average with an 8.49% five-on-five shooting percentage in 2022-23, another finisher (15.2%).
Bunting was drafted 117th overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2014 NHL Draft. He has tallied 54 goals and 117 points in 173 career regular-season games with Arizona and Toronto, including 20 goals and 44 points in 68 this season. Bunting finished last season’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning with two goals and three points in six games.
Toronto currently has $16,422,717 left in NHL salary cap space for next season but with just 14 players signed. However, they will also have to re-sign Matthews, who can sign a contract extension on July 1 and can become an unrestricted free agent after next season, and pending restricted free agent starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov so finding money to re-sign Bunting is going to be hard.
Five-on-Five On-Ice Performance
Here’s Bunting’s performance in possession metrics during five-on-five play this season:
- 51.16% Corsi-for percentage
- 54.63% expected goals-for percentage
- 53.74% scoring chances-for percentage
- 52.88% shots-for percentage
- 65.91% goals-for percentage
All of these numbers are solid, though inflated with exposure to Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and the rest of Toronto’s high-flying offense.
Though, Toronto is tied for 15th in Corsi-for percentage (50.76%), ranks ninth in expected goals-for percentage (52.87%), sixth in scoring chances-for percentage (53.43%), seventh in shots-for percentage (52.5%), and fourth in goals-for percentage (56.67%) at five-on-five, Bunting outperforms his teams’ cumulative metric in each of his individual measurements.
67.95% of Bunting’s zone starts this season have come in the offensive zone and he has never finished with a mark below 62% in that category during each of his four NHL campaigns. While Bunting may get a lot of offensive zone starts, he takes advantage of it.
Bunting’s expected goals-for rate may be overwhelmingly below his actual goals-for rate, but his expected ratio is already pretty solid and the finishing ability of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander inflate Bunting’s actual percentage.
Toronto is already a very good team but is even more so with Bunting on the ice.
Bunting’s five-on-five chance generation performance this season:
- 54.59% high-danger Corsi-for percentage (after finishing with 61.75% last season)
- 63.04% high-danger goals-for percentage
While Bunting’s high-danger Corsi-for percentage has come down, it was always going to be difficult to duplicate his performance in that category last season even with the talent surrounding him. Bunting is still performing very well overall even if the numbers have gone down from 2021-22, when Toronto set a franchise record for wins in a season.
Rate-Adjusted Plus Minus (RAPM)
Rate-Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) is an efficient way to measure a player’s performance in relation to the league, and in relation to replacement level. Here is Bunting’s RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:
Data: Evolving Hockey
Overall, as demonstrated in the on-ice metric percentages above, Bunting thrives in goals for-per-60 and is still better than average in the replacement level benchmark in expected goals for-per-60. His expected goals-against per 60 and Corsi-against per 60 may be down but MacLellan has expressed a desire for a top-six forward with skill, not necessarily a shutdown forward.
Bunting has five goals (fifth on Toronto) and eight points (sixth) on the power play, but plays at least a minute (1:51) under Toronto’s top power-play unit per game. His lack of opportunity playing on the man advantage could be a factor in his relatively poor performance on the power play. He could get some time on Washington’s top unit if he were on the roster but that is not a given. Though, if right-wing T.J. Oshie were to get injured as his track record suggests, he could be near the front of the line to take his spot.
To highlight how well Bunting has performed in his situation in Toronto, here is the team’s RAPM chart:
In the offensive categories at even-strength, Bunting once again outperforms his team’s averages. His expected goals-for on the power play may not be the best, but it is hard for him to get the opportunity with Matthews, Nylander, Marner, and center John Tavares eating all of the minutes.
Bunting could fit on a line with center Dylan Strome in the top-six and come with a salary cap hit of around $4.5 million. Washington currently has $7,369,166 of cap space with a very likely salary cap ceiling of $83.5 million next season. The team will have to tender new contracts to restricted free agent defensemen Martin Fehervary and Alexander Alexeyev but the two will not take up the rest of Washington’s remaining cap space.
The possibility of dealing Mantha in addition to losing Conor Sheary in free agency would create the roster space necessary to make room for Bunting. While Bunting may not be the best all-around player, Washington could use to boost offensively and he certainly brings it.
Does This Make Sense For Washington?
Yes, MacLellan stated his desire to add a top-six forward and Bunting fits the age range and skill level that the team wants and needs. He would slot behind Alex Ovechkin and has shown that he has a lot to give to a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Bunting has also shown his ability to play with and complement high-level talent in Toronto.
Other Potential Targets
RW Brock Boeser
By Harrison Brown
How about Anthony Duclair
I think we take requests. Justin, Harrison?
How about we just stop all this talk about acquiring a player or players. How about we also stop talking about any possible trade o Mantha as unless you are going to package picks and a young player to get rid of him he will be here next season. Turns out a bad trade and a bad fit here just like several in the past but no need to give up any future picks to move the underperforming player.
1st there is Connor Brown; yes he will be a UFA and coming off an injury but he is a semi-known quantity they they wanted last summer and could have again. 2nd as you said they have over $7 mil in cap space so resigning Brown is not a problem. 3rd IF they let Smith walk then there is money to resign Sheary and if Sheary is not resigned they could attempt to resign Smith; although both players are over 30 and there are younger players in the organization who can fill both those roles: Protas, Snively and maybe even a McMichael or Frank.
Lastly, people lets be realistic as this team no longer has Cup asperations!! The door is closed and will remain closed for several (5-7) years. As the owner is more concerned about retooling too getting Ovie his record than rebuilding to have a team that is a viable candidate for the CUP and what fans have to look forward to is lots of games like last nigh or the game against the Rangers or Kings or even the Devils. Yes they will win some games but not enough to be in the playoffs but enough to get Ovie his precious and much needed record for the owner. Have you read the book or seen the movie The Hobbit? Well I picture Ted ad Gollum sitting in his box holding the NHL record book in his hands and mumbling….”My precious record…..My precious record…must have! The Cup and a winning season for the record….the record!” Lets face facts this team is what it is and without a rebuild a retool keeps it the same and that is an old, slow team and is average and not a Cup contender nor even a quality playoff team!
One question: who is the HC next season? And is that person signed to a 3 year deal (the length of Ovies contract)?
1) Hoe about Brown is damaged goods, we don’t know if he will even be able to return to form.
You said the optimum words….We dont know. IF he is and if we resign him then we lost no picks. Also as we wanted him last summer and he fits in nicely IF he can play then nothing lost. To be honest for the next 3 years nothing matters to the owner other than getting the record, not the Cup, not the playoffs, not a winning team; all he wants is the record! So sit back, watch great players become shadows of themselves to get the owner a record and basically forget with what the game is played for…..winning The CUP!!
You’re gonna risk a multimillion dollar contract just to hope he can play?
Would rather hold unto the picks. Besides his injury was not like Backys surgery more like Wilsons. Dont see the risk as any player signed you assume the risk of injury. Also offer a 1 year deal as he is coming off an injury and the dollars dont seem to matter to the owner or GM. Then if he gets offered another contract the Caps can either up their offer or walk away, nothing ventured nothing gained or lost.
I like the idea of a one year “prove you’re back” contract. As you say, if he doesn’t like it, there are options. But I’d make the offer.
We need at least two goals scorers and one defenseman. Where do you prosper they come from?
I propose that until Ted gets his record that everything stays as is. Once he has his record and Ovie retires then start the rebuild. No need to waste trading picks for players; instead use them to restock the system and have them ready to go in 3 years.
The team promised Ovi they will be competitive as long as he is playing for them. Won’t be a full rebuild until he hangs em up.
What does competitive mean? We will win game or we will vie for the Cup? They are no longer a team that is a legitimate contender for the Cup and probably not even one that is a good playoff option anymore. Could competitive mean that we will try to win games and not be the worst team in the league until you leave? Just making the playoffs does not make you competitive if you are not able to advance. I’m sorry but for an owner and/or player to hold a team and fanbase hostage just to get a personal record is not what team sports are all about.
We need a 30 goal scorer. That’s not coming from Hershey.
And not getting one in trade unless you give up players and picks. IF you are still hoping for the playoffs the next several years…..forget it. Nothing happening on that front until after Ovie gets the record and retires and the rebuild begins. So you are probably looking at a 5-7 year window for this team to become relevant in playoff talk and Cup talk. So sit back and either enjoy an old slow tired injury prone team or watch Hershey.
and it isn’t Bunting either. Also, why would we pay him 4.5 mil when he makes less than 1 mil now?
Likely to take that in free agency. Not a trade. Good target.
Mantha has to go to have salary flexibility. I would give him and a 3rd round pick for a 5th in return. We don’t have assets to trade so we should be looking to FA for top six help. Tarasenko or Meier would then fit.
LMAO!! Cant afford either and doubt either would want to come here.
Without Mantha could. When healthy with another scorer the Caps will be competitive next year. Assuming new coach. Instead of nonsense comments come back in 7 years after the rebuild. You won’t be missed.
Please tell me which Gm would take Mantha without wanting either a prospect or a pick but probably both included and give back a player of the same quality or salary as Mantha. Mantha wont bring anything worth having so might as well keep him for next season and then just walk. remember this team is going to get a lot worse before it get better just to please the owner so Ovie can get the goal scoring record; so you have to wait 3 years before you see positive deals.
I said to offer with a pick. And not for a player in return. Get it?
All these stats and abbreviations are good but
Have no clue what they mean I.e. what is a Corsica