The Toronto Maple Leafs have a decision to make on a key player’s future, and that decision will likely determine if the team has any interest in an impending free agent.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Morgan Rielly fifth overall in the 2012 Draft, little did they know, or expect, that they would be leaving that event with arguably the best player of the entire class.
Rielly currently ranks second among players selected in the 2012 Draft in regular-season appearances (572), sitting 11 games behind current Leafs teammate Alex Galchenyuk who was taken two places ahead of the Vancouver native.
Rielly has been a hugely popular figure among the Leafs faithful, even being some fans’ preference for team captain before the honour was bestowed on John Tavares, but now the question over his long-term future has been raised.
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The 27-year-old is currently on a team-friendly $5 million AAV, but he is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and it may be conceivable, albeit difficult, to imagine him suiting up for another team either next season or beyond.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic (subscription required) has reported that the Leafs seem keen on extending Rielly beyond 2022, and has even suggested the player himself could be willing to take a bit of a discount to stick around with the only team he has played with in the NHL.
This situation would be ideal for both parties, who would maintain continuity and ensure their positive working relationship remains. The big issue will of course be the dollar amount that Rielly is willing to stick around at.
If Rielly’s ask is still too much for the Leafs, who will be keen to not lose him for nothing if a deal can’t be agreed, then general manager Kyle Dubas may have his eyes on an impending UFA in Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton is still a top-tier defensive player and is free to sign with any NHL team this summer after his six-year, $5.75 million AAV contract with the Carolina Hurricanes expires.
Hamilton may seek a contract in a similar range to Rielly, but if the Leafs are able to come to an agreement with him that locks him up for multiple years, there could be room for them to move on from their current player.
Hamilton may be interested in signing for the Leafs, having been born in Toronto, and he would be a huge addition to the team’s existing defensive corps. Losing Rielly would hurt, but replacing him with Hamilton would certainly lessen the blow.
If a deal between the two sides isn’t agreed by the time free agency kicks off, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Leafs deal Rielly for assets if it means being able to land Hamilton’s services long-term.
As with everything, the Leafs will take a cautious approach to this situation, preferring not to reveal their cards too early and jeopardize any advantage they have in contract negotiations and discussions.
The Rielly contract saga will be one watched closely by all associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the potential to land Hamilton will also be an exciting development to follow if any interest between the two parties is reported.
Any interest, however, will likely only come if Rielly’s future can’t remain in Toronto long-term, and if a clear decision is made on that sooner rather than later, it will clear everything up before the questions become a dominating storyline.