Toronto Maple Leafs: Extensions Provide Flexibility Moving Forward

Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) passes the puck to center Nazem Kadri (43) before Kadri would score on the play against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) passes the puck to center Nazem Kadri (43) before Kadri would score on the play against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are wasting no time announcing extensions for Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, which will provide more flexibility for the Leafs moving forward.

It was expected that the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to make negotiations with Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri a priority, but there was no telling what the contracts would look like, or whether both would even get new deals.

Related Story: Leafs Sign Kadri and Rielly to New Deals

That was until the Leafs made the announcement about the extensions. The signings caught a lot of people off guard, but that is something this management group has done for most of the season.

As Andrew Bottomley wrote, Rielly’s contract will pay him $5-million a year for the next six seasons, while Kadri’s will pay him $4.5 million a year for the next six seasons. Rielly took a big step in his development this season, posting a career-high in goals, assists and points (nine goals, 27 assists, 36 points). However, he realizes there is still work to do if he wants to be a top-tier defenceman on the Leafs. But he is definitely on the right track.

If the Leafs waited to get a long-term deal done with Rielly, they could have run into the risk of having to pay him more, like Montreal is doing right now with P.K. Subban.

Kadri’s contract is the one some people are scratching their heads with. Not because of the money, but the fact Kadri got six years. After years of settling for a two-year bridge deal, then a one-year deal, a six-year deal was unexpected.

However, when comparing Kadri’s del with other players it is a good deal for the Leafs. His contract compares with players like Valtteri Filppula, Derick Brassard, Stephen Weiss, Marian Gaborik, Dave Bolland, and Ville Leino, just to name a few.

Kadri has defined a role in the Leafs lineup, one that head coach Mike Babcock has praised him for, but like Rielly there is still work to be done.

The question people will ask now is whether Kadri will be willing to put in the work to improve offensively. Hopefully this commitment from the Leafs will motivate him to do so, but that is the other aspect he needs to improve on.

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Kadri has been known to have an attitude problem and that is something the Leafs have tried to work on since he joined the Toronto Marlies. He is a very confident person, but sometimes it does not paint a pretty picture for him. Add in the occasional time where his temper gets in his way and he makes poor choices.

Maturity is something only Kadri can improve on, because the Leafs can surround him with the right group of veterans. It is up to the 25-year old to take the necessary steps.

Luckily for Kadri, Babcock sees something in him and wants to make sure he is not wasting any of his potential. Sportsnet writer Arden Zwelling wrote a great piece looking into the relationship Kadri and Babcock have built and where it can go.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Dec 19, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Leo Komarov (47) is congratulated on his second goal of the game by center Nazem Kadri (43) against the Los Angeles Kings at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Kings 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The other angle that can be explored is a trade down the road involving Kadri, because he does have a friendly cap hit at $4.5 million. But at this point it does not look like the Leafs are interested in moving Kadri anytime soon.

What these deals do moving forward is give the Leafs an idea of what they can or cannot do during free agency. In year’s past the Leafs would usually focus on the draft and free agency. then deal with their RFA contracts. However, in this case doing the Rielly and Kadri contracts now will work out better moving forward, especially if the Leafs still want to pursue Steven Stamkos, although many are debating whether that is still a possibility.

The other question is what happens when the draft comes around and what does this mean for the future of Tyler Bozak? It is hard to speculate on what this means moving forward for the centre, but at this point a good reason the Leafs should keep him is to have a veteran presence in the lineup and especially one with offensive upside.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Apr 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak (42) skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Air Canada Centre. Columbus defeated Toronto 5-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Leafs will have a lot of young players making the jump to the NHL next season, along with some cheaper free agents as well, but at least they can sit easy knowing they got the tougher contracts out-of-the-way early.

Next season the Leafs have nine forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie signed, but that is without Nathan Horton and Stephane Robidas, who will be on LTIR next season.

The team is expected to move on from Jared Cowen, which will save them money on the salary cap and there is debate on whether they keep Milan Michalek next season.

If the Leafs do not have Horton, Cowen and Robidas on the roster next season they will have 13 players signed, and depending on where the salary cap goes, that could be very beneficial. However, with the moves Toronto has made the past two seasons the team is in better shape moving forward, which is why it was possible to sign these extensions.

Next: Leafs: Stamkos Highly Unlikely to Come to Toronto

There is always a gamble when a team makes long-term commitments, especially with younger players, but GM Lou Lamoriello is convinced both Rielly and Kadri are a big part of this team and have bought into the Leafs plan. Many are wondering what happens next and at this point there is no telling what this management group has up its sleeve.