In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll focus on three items of good news for the team. One is the rumor that defenseman Morgan Rielly and the Maple Leafs are expected to work out a contract extension this offseason.
The second is offering some commentary from a long media interview with Jason Spezza after he re-signed with the team. The interview offers insight into Spezza’s relationship with his family as a father and husband, what life was like during the restrictive COVID-19 protocols the Maple Leafs played under, and in general a little about what life is like for families when their NHL hockey-playing husbands and fathers are away for long stretches of time.
Finally, I’ll congratulate Dave Hakstol for being hired as the new head coach of the Seattle Kraken.
Item One: Morgan Rielly Likely to Re-Sign Early?
Sometimes my wishes might come true. During the past, I’ve written about Maple Leafs’ defenseman Morgan Rielly. I’m a fan. As early as May 2020, I wrote a post suggesting the the Maple Leafs should try to re-sign Rielly early. I’ve written about his style of play, his solid representation of the Maple Leafs to the public, and his work for social justice. Finally, last week I went on a public whine suggesting that general manager Kyle Dubas should make the tough but correct business decision to trade Rielly rather than carrying him and his expiring contract as an internal rental.
In my mind, Rielly is not only a solid hockey player, but he’s a solid citizen. So, today, if you’re a fan of Rielly like I am, there’s a rumor of good news. The Maple Leafs might just be working to re-sign him to a contract extension. Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday that the team was expected to work with Rielly on a contract extension this summer. (from “Which defencemen could change addresses, or stay put, this upcoming offseason?, Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic, 23/06/21).
Word is that the Maple Leafs and Rielly’s agent J.P. Barry spoke after the season ended about the potential of signing a contract extension. However, as LeBrun noted, serious discussions will wait until after July 21’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft and after Dubas and company work through free-agent signings and their trade agenda.
LeBrun also believed, and this is obvious, that an extension would depend on Rielly’s willingness to take less money to stay with the Maple Leafs. Right now, the 27-year-old defenseman is signed to a $5 million contract but the numbers mentioned focus on Rielly seeking about $6.5 million on a long-term contract.
Item Two: Jason Spezza’s Conversation with His Family About Playing Another Season
Here’s my admission. Jason Spezza has become my favorite Maple Leafs’ player. I think he’s special and hope he stays with the organization well past his retirement. Who knows, right? His recent long media interview after he re-signed with the team is worth reading, and you can do it by clicking the link provided just above.
Related: The French Connection
Although many things stood out from the interview including his admission that he would have signed for less than the NHL’s league minimum if he could have as a way to give the team more money to bring in better players, I want to focus on his comments when he answered the question: “What does the conversation look like with your family when you talk about coming back? Was it a long one? Does everyone have input?”
I’ll share Spezza’s response and then comment about it.
Spezza said about his children, “This year was probably a longer one than normal just because they have needs. My kids are getting older. … They’re 11, 9, 7, and 5. The discipline they showed this year in not complaining, being in and out of school, being online … Their friends were able to have play dates, but because of the protocols we were under, my kids saw nobody all year. They really had to stay together, the four of them.”
Spezza said about his wife, “That is a huge sacrifice — and for my wife. A lot of the time, she is a single mom at home while we are on the road. It is difficult to deal with the emotions. We just had a lot of frank conversations about how we are going to try to help the kids reconnect with people here now that things are lifting. We are really trying to help the kids get back to normalcy.”
Spezza hoped that life would be more normal for the team and that there would not be as strict protocols. He wrapped up by saying, “Credit to my wife, my kids, and the teachers for the stuff they did this year to keep the kids engaged and happy.”
Finally, Spezza summarized by saying that he was “really thankful that they are allowing me to play again. I am really thankful that my kids got through this year and were able to have perspective. It is a family decision at this point. When you have four kids and you are trying to play later in your life, it is not just about me. I am very lucky to have the support of my family.”
As fans, we learn a few things from his interview. First, it gives us insight into the difficult season the players had playing under the constricting protocols. Second, it gives a sense of what COVID’s impact was on the family of an NHL hockey player. You gain the sense that Spezza’s family was mostly alone. Third, you learn what life is like generally when an NHL player, who to a family is a husband and a father, is on the road.
That third insight offers us a general sense of how difficult Zach Hyman’s decision would be to sign with another team and uproot his wife and seven-month-old child from their extended family who lives in Toronto. If Hyman leaves his family would face a much more solitary life of separation when husband and father Zach is on the road. That’s why, as those who read my posts know, I don’t believe it’s a given that Hyman will bolt towards a bigger paycheque.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs will be looking for a new assistant coach now that Dave Hakstol has become the first head coach for the new Seattle Kraken franchise. In a bit of a surprise move, the Kraken has named Hakstol, who was most recently a Maple Leafs’ assistant, as its new head coach.
Hakstol is a native of tiny Warburg, Alberta, and was a former head coach for Sioux City Musketeers for four seasons and of the University of North Dakota men’s ice hockey team for 11 seasons. I wish him good luck in his new position.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf