Is it bye-bye Zach Hyman? Or is there a way for the Maple Leafs to sign their checking dynamo to a long-term deal?

Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman, soon to be an unrestricted free agent, is looking for an eight-year deal to stay in Toronto.

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Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman, soon to be an unrestricted free agent, is looking for an eight-year deal to stay in Toronto.

Is it bye-bye Zach Hyman? Or is there a way for the Maple Leafs to sign their checking dynamo to a long-term deal?

Most critics and insiders maintained Tuesday, one day ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, that Hyman will explore free agency but two industry sources suggested the Leafs are still at the table in their negotiations with the Hyman camp.

It appears to be a matter of how badly the Leafs want the 29-year-old left winger, who made Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner better players on the club’s top line. He would be difficult to replace. But the math to keep him will be difficult unless Leafs GM Kyle Dubas can shed at least one of the team’s seven contracts in excess of $5 million (U.S.).

Hyman is the big story for the Leafs this week, as the league turns its focus to the expansion and entry drafts. The Leafs will lose a player to Seattle on Wednesday, likely forward Alex Kerfoot, and they don’t have a first-round pick in the entry draft, which starts Friday.

As reported by the Star’s Kevin McGran, it is believed Hyman, a 29-year-old unrestricted free agent, is seeking an eight-year, $40-million deal from the Leafs. The structure of such a deal could also see more of the money front-loaded, though cap restraints will be a dominating factor in how the deal will be paid out. Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are also rumoured to have significant interest.

If the Leafs can somehow pull off a financial miracle and sign Hyman, it is expected a deal will not come until after the expansion and entry drafts. Hyman can officially enter free agency July 28.

Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will have to be creative with the salary cap to restock a roster that bowed out in the first round of the playoffs for a fifth straight season. Toronto has just under $6.5 million of available cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, leaving little to no room to fit in Hyman and sign another four to five players.

At the moment, the Leafs have $52.215 million committed next year to 11 forwards, including Kerfoot ($3.5 million) and the newly acquired Jarred McCann ($2.94 million), another candidate to be selected by Seattle. Toronto also has $20.019 million committed to six defenceman, and $1.65 million to Jack Campbell, the only goalie signed for next season.

The cap will be $81.5 million in the 2021-22 season, the third straight year at that number, but teams are expecting it to increase by at least a million a year through the potential end of the current CBA in 2025-26 and will factor that into contract negotiations.

When the CBA was signed in 2020, the cap rate of $81.5 million was to remain intact until hockey-related revenues surpassed $3.3 billion in a season. Increases after that would not rise more than one million dollars until the hockey-related revenues reached $4.8 billion. Once that level is reached, cap increases could transition to $2 million or more a season, based on the previous season’s revenues. The NHL had $5.09 billion in revenues in its last uninterrupted season, 2018-19.

Hyman’s contract would fit better with a larger cap space, and the potential for that will increase if NHL arenas are fully opened to fans in the coming months, and with new TV deals by Turner Sports and ESPN kicking in this coming season. But the math won’t work for this season. If the Leafs want Hyman as part of their core group, they likely will have to remove someone else.