It’s evident that Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas are committed to winning with their core players. While the players got the support from the higher ups, there doesn’t appear to be a major move on the horizon.
However, Morgan Rielly’s name started to creep in the rumour mill and would be a player that could gain a lot of interest from a number of teams.
While his decision-making came into question at times during the season, Rielly is still an effective puck-moving defenseman. While he may not be a 70-point defenseman like he was in 2018-19, he can still be good for 50 points. An unrestricted free agent in 2022-23, his expiring contract could factor in and could very well fetch a really great return as a result of his offensive game.
While the Maple Leafs have over $11.7 million in cap space, they need to be looking for cheap contracts and valuable assets in return to try and stay under the cap. Even though he can be viewed as an “own rental” it would be best to get a high return when you can before you let him walk for nothing, especially if Dougie Hamilton is signed. Here are three teams that the Maple Leafs could look to as a trade partner in order to make a deal for Rielly.
Detroit Red Wings
With over $48 million cap space and only one left handed defenseman signed for the 2021-22 season, the Red Wings could definitely use some assistance on the blue line. With a great head start in their rebuild with Lucas Raymond, Jonatan Berggren and Moritz Seider already making great strides in their development, they still need players until they make the jump to the pros.
The Red Wings will have no problem taking on a puck moving defenseman like Rielly as well as his cap hit of $5 million. The Red Wings aren’t giving up any of their top prospects mentioned above, but there are some assets that the Maple Leafs can look to acquire if they move on from Rielly.
The Maple Leafs could receive the 23rd overall pick (from the Washington Capitals) and Tyler Bertuzzi or go for picks with the 23rd overall pick and 48th overall pick (from the New York Rangers). If Dubas was able to get a first for a third line player in Kasperi Kapanen, then he is definitely able to get one for a puck moving defenseman. The Maple Leafs could look to try and acquire one and help the Red Wings out with their depth in the process.
With quality prospects in the system and Jakub Vrana scoring 11 points in 11 games after coming over in a trade form the Capitals, Bertuzzi is one player that could be worth exploring. He can be an intriguing option that can play in a second line role and replace the kind of energy, physicality and intensity that Zach Hyman had with the team.
Bertuzzi was off to a great start with five goals and seven points in nine games before requiring back surgery. He’s up for a new contract as he’s a restricted free agent and the Maple Leafs will be in a spot to give him an increase over the $3.5 million he made during the 2020-21 season.
After scoring 21 goals in 2018-19 and 2019-20, Bertuzzi would be at a great price of $4-$4.2 million, as THW’s Red Wings writer Tony Wolak projects him just slightly higher. After doing that on a rebuilding Red Wings team, he deserves an increase. He would provide great value for a team that’s cash strapped like the Maple Leafs as he could be well within their target price range.
Months before the NHL trade deadline, it seemed that the Predators could be headed towards a rebuild as it was reported that only Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne were the only untouchables.
Even though they made the postseason, there could still be changes coming. For some time, the Maple Leafs have been linked to defenseman Mattias Ekholm and they could circle back to him as a possible return in a Rielly deal. He can provide a steady two-way presence where he can be relied on defensively and chip in offensively as he can get 30-40 points. He finished with 23 points this season and he was on pace for 34 points if there was a full 82-game season.
I came across a site that THW’s New Jersey Devils writer Alex Chauvancy used in his latest Devils Rumours piece. PuckIQ does a great job comparing players to the type of competition they play against.
According to PuckIQ, Ekholm has played well against elite competition throughout his career. Even though his percentage of time was at 27.1% in 2020-21, he had a 50.2 Corsi For percentage and a goals for percentage of 85.2% while playing against elite competition. Even though the Predators have had their ups and downs over the past few seasons, Ekholm was a bright spot with his impact.
Cap space wouldn’t be an issue for the Predators as they have $18 million in projected cap space to take on Rielly’s contract. Ekholm’s would be a very cheap and valuable return with his $3.75 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022-23. It probably would be better for Dubas to acquire a player with term, but the Maple Leafs have a better chance to make an extension with Ekholm than they would with Rielly given that his price might be out of the Maple Leafs range.
Calle Jarnkrok could be an asset that’s added in. He’s been consistent with his production at $2 million, as he’s recorded more than 25 points in his last six seasons, along with four 30-point seasons. He is definitely a player who would provide great depth and speed in a third line role, providing secondary scoring when he needs to.
Whether or not the Ducks make a trade for Jack Eichel remains up in the air. If they do land him, they have many assets and may want to hang on to some pieces. If not, the Ducks could be an interesting option for the Maple Leafs.
They have been trade partners before, with Frederik Andersen being the previous major deal between the two teams. The Ducks are in the stages of a rebuild. With players like Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale already making their mark, some players could be on the block and the Maple Leafs could give up Rielly for help on their left hand side.
If the Maple Leafs decide to add another top-six forward, Jakob Silfverberg could be a possibility in a second line role. After recording 39 points in 2019-20 and 16 in 2020-21, he could very well be another option to replace Hyman as he can be effective on both the penalty kill (2:00 per game) and the power play (1:49 per game).
Silfverberg had a down season– much like the rest of the Ducks– and underwent hip surgery. But, he has always been consistent with his on ice play even if the offense wasn’t there. He has the determination to make an impact every shift and is always working hard. At $5.25 million for the next three seasons, it’s roughly around the price that Hyman should be getting.
If defense could be a target, there’s always Josh Manson as a possibility to help out on the right hand side. It’s only a matter of time before Drysdale assumes that role and Manson would fill a spot on the Maple Leafs right side. A second-round draft pick could be added, but they may hold onto that pick along with their first that could be used in a trade for Eichel.
Troy Terry could also be added in a deal, as he became available before the deadline. His $1.45 million cap hit for the next two seasons will definitely help the Maple Leafs’ cap situation greatly. He has quick hands and vision that’ll allow him to succeed in the offensive zone and could have great potential in the Maple Leafs system.
Since he’s looking for a change of scenery and the Maple Leafs could add some quality depth as a third liner, he could be an intriguing option in a bigger deal.
Should the Maple Leafs move on from Rielly, there are teams that could line up and give up pieces for a decent return. While nothing is imminent, losing Rielly could help the Maple Leafs in other areas where they may look to find answers after another failed playoff run.
Hockey has been a big part of my life since watching my first Leafs game to currently coaching minor hockey. I previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. Aside from hockey, I also enjoy drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.