Bunting reflects on Maple Leafs tenure, ready for next chapter in Carolina

Former Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting joins the JD Bunkis Podcast to discuss how and when he knew negotiations with Toronto weren't going to happen, and why the Hurricanes was a no-brainer team for him to sign with in free agency.

Michael Bunting’s decision this summer wasn’t an easy one, but the former Toronto Maple Leafs winger is turning the page after signing a three-year, $13.5-million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Scarborough, Ont. native discussed leaving his hometown team for North Carolina in an interview on Wednesday’s edition of The JD Bunkis Podcast.

“I really enjoyed my time in Toronto,” said Bunting. “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.”

Bunting’s journey from fringe NHLer to long-term security in the world’s best hockey league is built on the 27-year-old’s self belief. He explained how betting on himself when joining the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2021 paid dividends.

“It came down to a decision of taking the money and going somewhere else or coming home to Toronto,” he said.

“I knew I wasn’t going to make as much here. But I think when that decision came up, it was kind of a no-brainer to come home and experience that. I was familiar with (former GM) Kyle (Dubas) and I was familiar with (coach) Sheldon (Keefe) too. And obviously, you know, it worked out and I had a great two years here.”

While the Maple Leafs have moved on this summer, signing the likes of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, Bunting’s chemistry with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner added noticeable edge to Toronto’s top unit. It will be a role Keefe and company will need to fill with Bunting now in Carolina.

“I pictured myself in a top-nine or top-six position,” said Bunting of his mindset when joining Toronto.

“I built chemistry with Auston and Mitch in that first year, and I kind of just ran with it and each game more confidence would build and build and you kind of feel like you belong in the NHL, and you feel like you can keep up with everybody.”

That ability to play up and down the lineup made Bunting an attractive target for numerous NHL clubs looking to add pugnacity with some touch to their top-nine forward group. When the Hurricanes called, it felt like a natural fit.

“It was almost like a no brainer to me, he said. “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.”

Bunting’s physical play sometimes crossed the line, as evidenced by his suspension during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for injuring Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak. His relationship with the league’s referees also provoked constant chatter. For Bunting there wasn’t much to change, it was how he approached the game.

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“That’s just how hockey is, things happen,” he said.

“It’s so fast, we’re so emotional out there. Obviously, I can get emotional, even the refs get emotional. The Toronto media made that a little bit of a story, but I’m not really like that off the ice. I come in with a laugh every day and a smile. I really wasn’t focused on that at all. I do know I get emotional, and I get loud out there and, and (the referees) deal with it the best they can.”

Don’t miss The JD Bunkis Podcast on Sportsnet The FAN 590 on weekdays from 9-10 a.m. ET and wherever you download podcasts.

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