Top Free-Agency Landing Spots for Maple Leafs Winger Zach Hyman

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2021

Top Free-Agency Landing Spots for Maple Leafs Winger Zach Hyman

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It's been a rough stretch for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Lest anyone forget, they were the top seed in the North Division heading into the playoffs, but instead of making a deep run with an eye toward ending a 54-year Stanley Cup drought, they were bounced by the Montreal Canadiens in a first-round series Toronto had led three games to one.

    And if that weren't bad enough, the bannerless aftermath isn't all that much fun, either.

    No fewer than 10 players from the 2020-21 team are on the cusp of unrestricted free agency this summer, meaning general manager Kyle Dubas has some serious decisions to make about who stays and who goes while trying to stay within arm's length of the NHL's $81.5 million salary cap.

    Among those potential free agents is forward Zach Hyman.

    The 29-year-old had 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games in the final season of a four-year, $9 million deal he signed in 2017. Considering he produced 72 goals and 151 points over those 247 games, he's due for a raise, and it will be up to Dubas to determine whether to pony up the extra cash or let the 6'1", 211-pounder find it elsewhere.

    Ominously for Leafs fans, The Athletic's James Mirtle suggested Wednesday that the absence of a deal gives the appearance that the Torontonian's days in a blue-and-white sweater have reached an end.

    That appearance was all we B/R writing types needed to take the "Hyman is on the move" tack and compile a list of six would-be landing spots should he indeed decide to test the waters come July 28, when free agency opens.

    Click through to see what we came up with, and hit us back with some thoughts of your own in the comments.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

    Chicago. It's the City of Big Shoulders.

    And when it comes to hockey, the image often conveyed is that a of big, physical team that plays with a high-end blend of skill, energy and abrasiveness.

    As far as would-be free agents are concerned, few check those boxes better than Hyman. 

    Though he's sometimes lost in the shuffle amid the logjam of high-profile talent in the Maple Leafs top six, the right-handed shot is versatile enough to play on any line and has the temperament to do it.

    The Blackhawks have far fewer free-agency decisions to make when it comes to their own personnel, which means they could make better financial sense for him than Toronto.

    Whether he would be anxious to join a team that's not exactly a Cup contender is a question, but if it boils down to where he can get paid and where his style can instantly make him a fan favorite, Chicago is a fit.

Detroit Red Wings

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    They are perhaps a bit further from championship contention than the Blackhawks and have a few more free agents of their own to deal with, but the Detroit Red Wings have a general manager in Steve Yzerman who is not averse to making a splash and has a boatload of cash with which to work.

    They also have a potential ace in the hole when it comes to relationships thanks to the presence of Dylan Larkin. The 2014 first-round pick is a close friend of Hyman's and was the center on his line during their one year playing together at the University of Michigan.

    Hyman was a senior with the Wolverines when Larkin was a freshman, and the two combined for 37 goals and 101 points in 37 games.

    "We were together since day one," Larkin said during his rookie season in 2016. "He's a fast skater. I always tried to find him flying up the wing. I think it started out good, and toward the end of the season, we had the ability to take over a game and lead our team. I think he has great character, and he was a great guy to play with."

Edmonton Oilers

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    Presuming he's not inked by Toronto beforehand, the chances Hyman is with the Oilers in October revolve around one thing: What the Edmonton brass chooses to do with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

    The No. 1 overall pick from 2011 is the longest-tenured Oiler and recently finished the seven-year, $42 million deal he signed prior to the start of his third NHL season in 2013.

    Now 28, the center had his best points-per-game ratio (0.94) in 2019-20 but plummeted to just 35 points in 52 games this past season—including just 15 points at even strength. Meanwhile, Hyman had two fewer points in nine fewer games with the Maple Leafs, but he produced 12 more points during even-strength play.

    Considering he made almost $4 million less in doing so likely makes him a bargain to Edmonton GM Ken Holland, and the chance to play alongside Connor McDavid could make the Oilers appealing to Hyman too. 

    Several of the Oilers' eight other unrestricted free agents seem likely to sign elsewhere, and the money will probably be there for Hyman if Holland makes the tough call to cut ties with a popular veteran.

New York Rangers

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    When they look at their future, the Rangers see the Maple Leafs.

    The New York roster is awash in young talent, including last fall's top overall draft pick, Alexis Lafreniere. Although it missed the playoffs, the team was far better at the end of the 2020-21 season than at the start.

    The new regime of GM Chris Drury and coach Gerard Gallant already have five players under contract for next season at $4.5 million or more, which means the top-end purse strings are tight, but the glut of young players still on entry-level deals leaves plenty of cap room with which to work Hyman into the mix.

    Hyman has played most of his 345 NHL games as a winger, but he has taken 653 faceoffs and won 43.5 percent of them. His career-best 47.1 win percentage came in 2018-19, when he took a career-high 238 faceoffs.

    If Drury and Gallant take a run at adding a high-profile center to the mix, Hyman will probably end up elsewhere. But if they value his size, grit and versatility, the Garden could make a lovely new home.

Ottawa Senators

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    Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

    Make no mistake, the Senators are a team on the rise.

    They were epically bad to begin the 2020-21 season but were the third-best team in the North Division over the final two months—trailing only the Oilers and the Maple Leafs on points.

    And what better way to bridge the gap than to add a vital piece from the Toronto puzzle?

    Ottawa was 19th in the league in goals scored in 2020-21.

    A right-handed shot, Hyman would fit best on the right wing, where he would join Evgenii Dadonov, the team's most significant offensive free-agent signee last summer, and complement an existing stable of young left wingers that includes 21-year-old Brady Tkachuk and 2021 No. 3 overall pick Tim Stutzle, just 19.

    And though his career high in points is just 41 and came three seasons ago, Hyman's arrival would instantly make everyone there better.

St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues already have a few Zach Hyman types.

    Winger Jaden Schwartz will be the same age at the start of the season and was drafted the same year, but the first-rounder produced far less—21 points to the fifth-rounder's 33—while playing just three fewer games. Zach Sanford, another winger, is two years younger but has yet to surpass 16 goals in a season while playing 60, 58 and 52 games in the past three seasons; Hyman has twice scored his single-season high of 21 goals.

    Schwartz is an unrestricted free agent after making more than $3 million more than Hyman did in 2020-21, while Sanford is a restricted free agent surely expecting a raise on the $1.5 million he made.

    It's no stretch to suggest Hyman is better than either of them right now.

    Luring him from Toronto would likely carry a comparable price tag to what Schwartz raked in last season for less production, while cutting ties with Sanford and making hard decisions elsewhere might create a situation when the Blues could keep Schwartz and add Hyman too.

    Your move, Doug Armstrong.

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