Kings Should Pursue Morgan Rielly if the Price Is Right

Since the 2021 Trade Deadline, the rumor has been that the Los Angeles Kings are interested in acquiring a high-end, left-shot defenseman. The general manager of the team, Rob Blake, has said he is specifically interested in a “dynamic” defenseman, preferably 25 years of age or younger. Recently, rumors suggest that the Toronto Maple Leafs might be interested in trading Morgan Rielly, and he could be a good fit.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After a disappointing playoff run, the Maple Leafs are likely interested in shaking up their roster by trading a big-name player, and Rielly seems to be the most probable candidate.

The Kings and Rielly appear to be a good match as far as LA’s needs and the likelihood that the Maple Leafs will move him. That said, the team needs to be careful when it comes to negotiating with the Maple Leafs to make sure they get him at a reasonable price.

Kings and Maple Leafs Have Been Trade Partners in the Past

Over the past few seasons, two of the Kings’ biggest trades have been with the Maple Leafs. On Jan. 28, 2019, the Kings traded Jake Muzzin to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi, and a 2019 first-round pick — LA selected Tobias Bjornfot with the pick.

Carl Grundstrom Los Angeles Kings
Carl Grundstrom, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

About one year later, on Feb. 5, 2020, LA moved Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford to Toronto in exchange for Trevor Moore, a 2020 third-round pick — the Kings selected Alex Laferriere with the pick — and a 2021 conditional third-round pick.

The teams are comfortable in dealing with one another, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they were to become trade partners once again for a blockbuster deal.

Rielly’s 2020-21 Season Proved He Is the High-Caliber Defenseman the Kings Need

Rielly had a very solid 2020-21 season, putting up five goals and 30 assists in 55 games. He also showed decent possession metrics along the way, posting a 50.14 Corsi for percentage (CF%). Additionally, his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) was very good, finishing at 54.52 percent on the season.

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Rielly’s regularized adjusted plus/minus (RAPM) chart shows how good he is offensively and on the power play. This is something the Kings need, as they averaged just 2.54 goals per game last season — 27th in the league.

Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly 2020-21 regularized adjusted plus/minus (RAPM) chart (Evolving-Hockey)

Overall, Rielly is a top-end defenseman who fits nearly all of Blake’s wants. While Rielly is 27 years old, he is a left-shot who has lots of offensive ability. It is going to be very difficult to find a player that fits all of Blake’s requirements, so Rielly should still be considered a good target, despite his age.

The extra experience Rielly has could be a good thing. The goal of acquiring him would be to help push the Kings to the playoffs sooner rather than later without putting the rebuild at risk. His age would allow him to be a leader for the future playoff runs the team has in sight and a big contributor as well.

Who the Kings Would Send to Toronto

The Kings should make it their goal to protect all of their top prospects in transactions this offseason. No matter how good a player is or how significant they could be in helping LA make the playoffs next season, taking a big bite out of the rebuild would be a mistake.

There are three players who the Kings could consider moving to the Maple Leafs in a Rielly trade. The first is Adrian Kempe. There have been rumors that the Leafs had been scouting him for a potential trade, so he could be an attractive piece for Toronto.

One name that hasn’t been mentioned is Kings right winger Adrian Kempe. According to an industry source who requested anonymity, the 24-year-old Kempe has been heavily scouted by the Leafs. At six-foot-two and 200 pounds, he would come with a $2-million (U.S.) salary-cap hit this year and next before restricted free agency.

From ‘The Maple Leafs have Adrian Kempe and Mikael Granlund on their trade deadline radar,’ Toronto Star, April 5, 2021

Kempe could be a good player for the Kings to trade, as it doesn’t seem like he will be a big part of the future due to forward prospect depth. For the Maple Leafs, acquiring him would mean some cap relief, which they are in need of. He only has one more season before he will need a new contract, but he carries solid value right now for the extra offense he brings.

Another player to consider is Dustin Brown. The 36-year-old just came off one of his best seasons; he put up 17 goals and 14 assists in 49 games. Though his nearly $6 million salary may be a lot for the Leafs to take on, he can provide a lot of offense, and he is a power play specialist.

Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Maple Leafs are interested in Dustin Brown, the Kings could retain some salary to make the deal work. He also only has one season left on his contract, and LA has some room to work with in terms of cap space, so they should use it to their advantage.

The last potential trade candidate is Jonathan Quick. Calvin Petersen showed this season that the net should be his moving forward, and Quick’s deteriorating play means there won’t be a big role for him on future Kings teams. Like Brown, Quick is getting paid almost $6 million for two more seasons, but LA could also retain some of his salary.

Though it is hard to imagine why the Maple Leafs would want the 35-year-old goaltender, there have been rumors that they had interest at one point. While the rumors were and still are puzzling, there are some reasons why Toronto would consider it.

There were some Jonathan Quick rumours over the weekend. I don’t see it, even though I concede some circumstantial evidence: Quick’s fiery, competitive nature is the temperament Toronto likes; he’s tight with Jack Campbell; and the Leafs and Kings do deals together. 

31 Thoughts: Theories on the Maple Leafs potentially trading for Quick.

Recently, there have also been rumors that the Maple Leafs will be moving on from goaltender Frederik Andersen, and all signs are pointing in that direction. If the team doesn’t bring him back, a Quick trade would be more likely, as Toronto would be able to add the goaltending depth they’ll lose without Andersen.

Kings Need to Be Cautious When Going After Rielly

Even though there is no doubt that Rielly is a very good defenseman who could be a massive addition to the Kings, LA can’t throw everything at the Maple Leafs to get him. The Kings should consider letting go of Kempe, Brown, or Quick, and they have some extra draft picks to work with as well; they hold an extra third-round pick in 2021 and a fourth-round pick in 2023.

If the deal doesn’t work out for the Kings, that’s fine. The last thing they should do is trade away prospects, taking a toll on the future of the team.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey

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