The Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Good Friday that they have signed pending restricted free agent defenseman Simon Benoit to a three-year, $1.35 million AAV contract.

Benoit has been one of the great stories for the Leafs this season. He went unqualified and was allowed to enter free agency by one of the worst teams in the league, the Anaheim Ducks, before signing a one-year deal with the Leafs in late August for $775,000.

After signing in Toronto, he exclaimed, “I personally think it’s a mistake on their part. And it’s a win for Toronto… I’m just gonna make my spot. I always work hard. And I always came to camp as a surprise. I got hurt, but as soon as I’m back on, I’ll make sure I make myself part of the team.”

And well… Benoit made all of it come true, which is partly why he’s such an easy player to root for. Benoit came in with no advantages, got hurt in training camp, and struggled in preseason as a result, but he worked away at it and refused to go away. When he got his opportunity, he seized it and never looked back.

Benoit leads the team in hits with 204 (Jake McCabe is right behind him with 192, and the next highest is Matthew Knies with 149). He’s averaging 16:54 per game with 1:27 of it coming while shorthanded. If we look at only the calendar year 2024, Benoit has averaged 18:06 per game over 34 games (still just 1:24 per game shorthanded). He can clearly take a good 5v5 shift in the league and bring jam, but to take the next step, he will have to become a regular and effective penalty killer.

Alongside his most common partner, Jake McCabe, they have formed a physical safety net of sorts as the Leafs have suffered a host of injuries on defense during the season while both Benoit and McCabe have remained available throughout the grind of the year. They are slightly ahead in shot share and expected goals and have outscored opponents 14-12 at 5v5.

As an RFA, there was no urgency to get this done now, but it’s a great reward for a player who has very much earned it and provides some real ease of mind for someone who was let go after last season — and for a team that has 13 players on expiring contracts at the end of this season, eight of which are UFAs.

Taking a quick look at next year’s Leafs roster, it’s already laid out like this:

Knies – Matthews – Marner
McMann – Tavares – Nylander
_______ – Holmberg – Jarnkrok
_______ – Kampf – Reaves

Rielly – ____
McCabe – _____
Benoit – Timmins


Assuming an $87.5 million cap limit, they have roughly $19.2 million to fill out those spots plus — hopefully — add a seventh defenseman and 13th forward. If nothing else, there’s room to make one big move on defense, financially speaking.

I assumed this contract would land between $1.15 and $1.25 million as Benoit’s lack of production — just five points in 54 games — helps suppress his salary despite everything else he brings to the table, but I also anticipated a two-year term similar to Bobby McMann. When a player is 25 and the team is buying additional years, it usually has to pay extra for each season knowing the player is forgoing unrestricted free agency until he’s nearly 29 in this case. Naturally, the AAV nudged up slightly to $1.35 million on the three-year extension, and Benoit receives extra security.

The contract ensures that Benoit is part of this group for years to come, and therefore it adds even more intrigue to the Leafs‘ approach to their defense for the playoffs. After the trade deadline, the Leafs acquired two veterans, Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson, effectively bumping out Benoit as a regular on the team. But TJ Brodie has consistently struggled and Edmundson is already hurt. Timothy Liljegren and Morgan Rielly are missing time right now, too.

We debated it on the podcast this week, but are the Leafs really going to sit someone who has not only helped them succeed this season but is now going to be part of their program for years to come in order to dress a number of veterans they will likely allow to walk away this offseason? Benoit would have to notably underperform to justify it, and right now, if anything, it’s some of the veterans who are struggling.

This marks the third contract where Treliving has given a player this exact $1.35 million figuring, joining Ryan Reaves and Bobby McMann. McMann already looks like a steal, and if Benoit can keep giving the team 18 good minutes a night for the $1.35 million number, he will be, too.