Though he won’t admit it publicly, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has an extremely tough decision to make in regards to defenceman Morgan Rielly.
Rielly, 27, still has one full season remaining on his contract, meaning he and the team could push negotiations off and let the year play out. However, this was an approach the same Maple Leafs also tried with Zach Hyman this past season. Not only were they not able to get a single series win out of it, but they were also forced to lose Hyman for nothing as the 29-year-old chose to sign with the Edmonton Oilers in free agency.
Of course, viewing these things in hindsight always makes it look worse than it is, and Dubas can’t be blamed for choosing to hold onto Hyman for the entire season. After all, it looked as though this year was going to be the one where the Leafs finally went on deep playoff run.
Things are different now however. Not only will the Leafs be in tough once the postseason rolls around again given that the divisions will be back to normal, but Rielly is also a much more valuable player than Hyman. Dubas cannot once again hold onto the player simply in hopes of going on a deep playoff run for a second year in a row. A decision like that could be enough to have him fired. Instead, he will have to make a tough decision in either re-signing the blueliner, or trading him prior to the 2022 deadline.
This is a tough decision to make. On one hand, Rielly has been a very solid offensive defenceman since coming into the league in 2013. On the other, he will be 28-years-old by the time his new deal would kick in, and he would likely command a six or seven year deal. That would put him in his mid 30’s by the time his deal would expire, an age where the majority of players tend to decline, some in a big way.
Another issue in re-signing him is the money he would get. Even with the flat cap, most are projecting Rielly to sign a deal that carries an average annual value of roughly $7-7.5 million, and that price may go up slightly seeing what other defencemen like Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones just recently signed for. His contract would be tough for the Leafs to fit in given that they already have over $40 million combined between their four best forwards in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
A Rielly Trade Might be the Best Option
While some, including Dubas, may not like it, a trade is the better of the two options here. The problem with moving Rielly is finding a fair return. If he were to be moved, it would put a significant hole in the Leafs blueline meaning they would need to get a defenceman in return. The other issue is that other teams around the league understand the cap situation the Leafs are in and wouldn’t be doing them any favors, making it a very hard trade to win.
This is a difficult spot for Dubas to be in, but at the end of the day he did it to himself. He signed all four forwards mentioned above to their very lucrative deals, and while they are all worth it it has put this team in a cap crunch. Of course, Dubas has shown before he is very creative and may be able to find a way to maneuver out of this, but it won’t be easy.
While it remains to be seen what decision he will make regarding Rielly, he has to pick one way or the other. This team simply cannot afford to lose both him and Hyman for nothing at all in back to back seasons. The pressure is truly on for both Dubas and the Leafs.
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