Rielly Extension Follows The Script

TORONTO (Oct. 29) — There are several irrefutable facts that surround Morgan Rielly’s eight–year, $60 million contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs:

a) Rielly is, by many lengths, the best defenseman on the hockey club… and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The Leafs clearly understood they could not risk moving forward with Rasmus Sandin as their top blueliner. Though talented, Sandin is too slightly built to lead the team through four grueling playoff rounds.

b) By accepting an AAV (or cap–hit) of $7.5 million, Rielly left money on the table to stay in Toronto. He could have commanded $1 million more per season if choosing to become an unrestricted free agent next July.

c) The Leafs are pathologically addicted to the core of players that has failed them in the Stanley Cup tournament.

d) Rielly’s extension spells the end of the Big 4 forwards after this season. Though the $81.5 million salary cap may rise marginally, no club in the National Hockey League will be able to carry five contracts worth $48,005,616.

e) Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment evidently still trusts the management team that has assembled the gifted, yet scarcely competitive playoff group of the past half–decade. Inking Rielly to a “home team” discount proves some enduring value to Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas. The on–ice results speak contrarily.

f) Rielly is among the most–respected Leafs players of the past generation. A truly good person.


The contract extension also confirms that the Leafs will move forward with a No. 1 defenseman that has only once been in the Norris Trophy conversation: after his brilliant, 72–point effort in the 2018–19 season. Rielly is a tier beneath the top blueliners of recent yore — Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo, John Carlson, Cale Makar — but the Leafs possess no defenseman superior to the nine–year veteran. Norris Trophy types are routinely locked into career–spanning contracts. Among the potential free agents in the next two summers (John Klingberg, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Olli Maatta, Calvin De Haan, P.K. Subban, Rasmus Ristolainen, Kris Letang), only Klingberg, of Dallas, ranks with Rielly. The others are either older and past their prime, or not in Rielly’s class. So, the Maple Leafs had no alternative but to secure their top blueliner and prevent him from hitting the open market.

Now, the real story begins to emerge. With John Tavares unmovable for another three seasons, which player among Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander will be offloaded to accommodate Rielly’s pact?

Nylander’s salary ($6,962,366) is the least–confining and he provides the best value for the dollar. Matthews, of course, ranks among the top snipers in Maple Leafs history, but hasn’t proven worthy in Stanley Cup toil. Poised above the Leafs, like a giant axe, is that Matthews can walk as an unrestricted free agent after the 2023–24 schedule and will command a full, no–movement clause beginning that season. If words spreads, internally, that Matthews is leaning toward exploring the market — with Arizona and home town of Scottsdale a possible destination — the Leafs may have no choice but to trade his $11,640,250 contract. There won’t be much appetite, for obvious reasons, to make such a move, but the salary cap universe necessitates tough decisions.

A poll of Leafs Nation would, at this time, clearly favor the disburdening of Marner’s $10,903,000 contract that runs through the 2024–25 season. But, rival general managers aren’t blind. Until (or if) Marner begins to flash the skill and creativity that somehow vanished with the playoff debacle against Montreal — and, more importantly, carries over top performance into the Stanley Cup tournament — it will be nearly impossible for Toronto to move him.

The Leafs may lack for championships. But, never for intrigue.


14 comments on “Rielly Extension Follows The Script

    1. Nice try, Andy, at getting me to answer this the way you want. I was a rabid Leafs fan as a kid. My emotional attachment to the team ended soon after I began covering it as a reporter. That emotion has never returned. But, my passion for writing about the Leafs is always fervid.

  1. If Matthews is traded, what kind of return are we looking for? I would assume multiple first-round picks and a quality 5 million dollar defenseman?

  2. Overall, a good move for the Leafs. As you said, not other options really. How much better would this move have looked with one of the big 3 contracts moved out (without no move clauses), Dougie Hamilton on the blue line, and another top prospect in the lineup with draft picks in the cupboard for coming years. As I’ve said repeatedly, that would have intrigued me enough to get on board with the club this year. As it stands, I’m just following the club on the periphery this year. I’ve probably read your blog more than I’ve watched Leaf hockey this season.

    I can’t fault this move, but do want to point out that their only real trade chip this deadline is now no longer available.

    Should be a pretty predictable result this year I imagine.

  3. The signing is a tad surprising as I thought Toronto was going to let Reilly walk at the end of the year.
    I can’t knock Reilly as he’s a very good player, but I’ve always believed that he’s capable of more. Morgan has flashed ‘top shelf’ brilliance at times but fails to stay up in the Spirit/Legend realm where guys like Lindstrom/Orr/Coffey/Leetch live. I’ve always felt Reilly is like Po from Kungfu Panda and would just figure it out one day – Skadoosh. I sincerely hope he does because you can’t win in the playoffs unless you have a guy on your team who can make the next level jump.
    The next 3 games should tell us if Toronto is figuring it out OR do they need a new coach. The Chicago game was really a coin toss.

  4. I am banking they do not even make the playoffs this year. But not even that will push them to make changes on the roster, but by that point, you would think Dubas is fired and Shanahan is not far behind.

  5. Howard, Auston Matthews will retire a Leaf. I’m 51 he’s the most talented player I have seen in a Leafs uniform. Chicago never traded Kane or Toews; Pittsburgh never got rid of Crosby and Malkin; Washington, Ovie. I expect another 8 year deal for Matthews, bottom line. Period.

    1. First, Walter, I edited your comment so as to not embarrass you for the mess you sent. Second, I’m 62 and have watched the Leafs longer. Third, can you name one small difference between the players you cited and Matthews?

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