Maple Leafs’ Rielly Is Living up to Contract Extension

If there’s one headline heading into the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs was the uncertainty and future of top defenseman Morgan Rielly.

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Being an important piece to this team’s blueline since he entered the league in 2013-14, Rielly has been through a lot, going through a rebuild and playoff disappointments as a core member of this team. With a market seeing defensemen get $9 million on their contracts, many thought that Rielly’s time in Toronto was coming to an end. 

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 However, when the Maple Leafs signed him to an eight-year extension with an average annual value of $7.5 million, it was the best news that the city and fans could’ve hoped for. They got another core piece locked up for the future, but since the signing, we’ve seen a more confident and determined Rielly with his play on both sides of the puck. 

Reilly’s Value An All-Time High

To say that many are grateful that Rielly’s AAV is $2 million below what other defenders are signing is a major understatement. It was definitely something that’ll benefit this team in the long run given how they have to manage the salary cap very closely with each transaction. 

William Nylander, Morgan Reilly
Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly celebrates with teammate William Nylander. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hans Deryk)

His play over his career has determined that he’s easily worth $8 million or more. He looks calmer and more composed, elevating his play to new heights as he’s been a real important factor to the team’s success as an offensive defenseman.

This season alone, Rielly currently sits in the top-10 in scoring among defensemen with a minimum of 20 games played, seventh overall with 33 points. He’s sixth overall in assists (28), 10th in even strength points (21) 10th in points per game with 0.87. This kind of production should put him into the conversation as a top defender in this league. 

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Since the 2017-18 season where he recorded his first 50-point season (finishing with 52 total), he’s the seventh best producing defenseman as he’s tallied 219 points. After that season, he put up a stellar career-best 72 points with a Norris Trophy caliber performance. This season, he’s on-pace to fall short of that mark, but it’s definitely in his sights if he continues to be a consistent point-producer like he has been the past few seasons. 

His underlying numbers are just as impressive. With a minimum of 300 minutes played, he’s fifth overall in five-on-five goals for percentage when he’s on the ice, 67.24. He’s also in the top-30 among defensemen with a scoring chances for percentage of 55.81. However, his impact against elite level competition continues to standout in terms of his offensive production. Here’s a breakdown of his GF% against the opponents best since 2018-19. 

SeasonGF% vs Elite Comp.
2018-1963.50
2019-2050
2020-2160.70
2021-2270.8

 

While his first three seasons showed remarkable production when he was on the ice, having a GF% over 70 shows his capability to take charge of the game and be a factor going against the opposition’s best every game. His ability to lead a play in transition and jump into the play has always made him a threat on the backend. 

It also helps that he finally has an accomplished and responsible defensive partner in T.J. Brodie, that has always been there to help and support Rielly with a strong defensive game. There’s a burden lifted from him carrying the load of his previous defensive partners like Matt Hunwick and Ron Hainsey. Brodie is great in transition, complimenting the play style of Rielly as their chemistry shows when they’re on the ice.

While Rielly does thrive offensively, he’s being relied upon more in his own end by getting his share of defensive responsibilities. He’s averaging close to two minutes per game on the penalty kill. More importantly, his 1.64 goals against per 60 is the lowest it has been throughout his career, showing his commitment and improvement in his own end.  

This kind of consistent production at that price, is definitely extremely valuable. It won’t be long before this contract is going to look like a steal. 

Teammates Have Taken Note

It’s not just the stat sheet and analytics where Rielly’s presence is being felt. Everyone on the team has taken notice at the steps he’s taken and the consistency he’s brought this season. Especially from the bench boss. 

Jake DeBrusk; Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly and Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk battle for the puck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

“He doesn’t over stretch his shifts. He knows when to change,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said according to TSN’s Mark Masters. “When he gets in tough spots, he seems to have another gear to push through and use his legs to get out of trouble.”

In regards to Rielly’s defensive play, Keefe added, “The responsibilities taken with match-ups and penalty killing and late in games and all those things, that’s allowed him now to be a guy who can take on more minutes.”

Rielly has become more than just an offensive threat, but he has transitioned into a more dependable player with the details in his game and playing a more well-rounded game where he isn’t just focussed on offense. He’s even become more vocal. Rookie defenseman Timothy Liljegren has even taken note of Rielly’s game play and the leadership qualities he possesses in the locker room. 

Back in December 2021, Wayne Simmonds had high praise for his teammate, describing him as being, “lights out” and “an anchor” for them. 

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There’s a reason why Rielly wears a letter as a leader of this team. He showing what it takes to win, but also what it’s like to be a role model for the younger players coming through the system. He’s the perfect example of what you want in a player.

Rielly Has Faith in the Team

When Rielly signed to take a hometown discount, it brought up two big talking points. First, he talked about the Maple Leafs being a first-class organization and how they operate as a whole and he wanted to remain with the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2012. 

“I’ve just gotten to that point in Toronto where it really feels like home,” Rielly said according to ESPN’s Kristen Shilton. “Every day that I’ve been here since 2012 has been first class and that’s the standard around here. It’s a pretty special place to be.” 

Second, it shows that he has confidence in what the team has done to try and turn things around and become more competitive. Rielly has been a major part in that regard and he wants to push this team forward and have more success than what they have right now. Especially when playoff time comes. 

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

Reilly took a discount price in order to remain with the team. It shows the commitment and trust he has with the organization, supporting the direction that they’re on. It says a lot and that he wants to be part of something big. He’s been through some tough times throughout his career as a Maple Leaf, but now he wants to share the success that the team will have. He’s going to be a big reason of why that is.  

Rielly’s impact on and off the ice was going to be a very tall task if he wasn’t re-signed. Months after the contract was finalized, there isn’t any doubt that both Rielly and the Maple Leafs are both benefiting from the result of this transaction. 

Rielly will continue to be an offensive force while still displaying his underrated defensive abilities. He’s earned it and he will continue to provide the consistency over the next eight seasons.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, NHL and Puck IQ.