The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 2015-16 season dead last. By doing so, they secured themselves the best odds of winning the draft lottery and grabbing the first overall pick. The draft and free agency later this summer are big ticket events for the Maple Leafs.
The draft will help them pick young players who could turn into the future core of the team and they may sign a valuable player or two when the market opens in July. They also had to deal with the contracts of two of their young leaders, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly. In Rielly, an extension was all but guaranteed. The defenseman stepped up the most this season and was definitely part of the Leafs’ future plans.
Kadri was another story. He had a good year and was praised by management and the coaching staff after the season drew to a close. Many, however, were on the fence about just what to do with the rugged pivot. Would he fit into the rebuild, or was it time to trade him in hopes of acquiring some assets for the future?
The management team of the Maple Leafs seems to believe the former and have locked both Kadri and Rielly into six-year contract extensions.
Maple Leafs Made Smart Deals
In the past, fans were shown the sometimes incompetence of Leafs’ management. They would give substantial contracts to underserving players which would then backfire soon after. The players wouldn’t perform and the team would be on the hook for a very sizeable contract.
Neither of these deals have that feel. Rielly was the team’s best defenseman and really improved his play when he was given responsibility later in the year. Mike Babcock looks to him as a current and future leader of the club and Rielly definitely proved himself capable.
Rielly: "I'm looking forward to training hard, getting stronger and faster and having a big season with the Toronto Maple #Leafs."
— Rob Longley (@longleysunsport) April 13, 2016
He finished the year with nine goals and 36 points, which is his best statistical season in the NHL. He was also paired against the oppositions’ top lines, and while he still needs some work, the initial signs are very encouraging. He also averaged 23:13 of ice time per game over the course of the year. Rielly’s deal carries a $5 million AAV ($30 million total), which is exceedingly fair for the Maple Leaf.
Kadri’s deal, on the other hand, carries an AAV of $4.5 million ($27 million total), which is great for the Leafs. He was given a year to truly show the Maple Leafs what he could bring and he came out and did his job. Despite being suspended the last four games of the year, Kadri led the Leafs with 45 points in 76 games.
"I think this is the only place to play for me. This is where my heart is." – Nazem Kadri. #TMLtalk
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 13, 2016
He was physical, he played well in all three zones and there were no distractions occurring with his off-ice behaviour. He showed that he could develop his all-around game and was rewarded for his efforts.
Make no mistake, the Blue and White are taking a gamble on both of these players. However, management has made smart calls thus far in their tenure and locking up two young players with bright futures seems like a solid move for all those involved.
My Two Cents
I see this as a smart choice for the Maple Leafs. After a season with so much turmoil, which revolved around the franchise beginning its teardown and rebuild, I believe the extensions are solid pieces of a new foundation. It’s a sign that the team is committed to developing their own talent, rather than relying on potential signings in free agency or a trade.
Kadri and Rielly are now committed to the rebuild. They are cornerstones and will be looked upon as such. They will need to provide leadership for the team’s younger core pieces like William Nylander, Mitch Marner and whoever the Leafs take this coming June.
It’s another step in the right direction. The franchise looks to be turning around and will be on the upswing in the very near future. If Leafs’ management continues to make smart moves, success cannot be far off.