Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Trading Morgan Rielly & Whining About Life

When it comes to business, I’m a sort of simple guy. I come from the school of “Buy low, sell high” or “Don’t spend more money than you have” or “It’s better to move an item too soon rather than too late.”

Then there’s NHL hockey and it’s flat salary cap. Although I wish the core four of the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t cost as much against the salary cap as they do, in the long run I’m not sorry that the team signed any of these players. And, unlike many of those who read my posts, I don’t think the team is going to Hades in a handcart.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Rielly Trade Rumor, Andersen to Penguins?

Why the Core Four Was a Good Idea

Quite the opposite in fact. Although I realize I’m almost alone in this thought, I think the gambit of creating a strong core of star players and then fitting pieces around them is a good business strategy. It basically assured that the Maple Leafs would be able to field a really strong team season after season. The core would be solid, and the pieces around them would move dynamically. It would also allow the organization to develop a strong farm system by seasoning its prospects.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs, Jason Spezza (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

For example, if Jason Spezza isn’t one of the best bargains in the NHL, I’m living on another planet. Toronto has some issues as a place to play (the intense microscope of the fans, for example); but, it will now always be attractive as a place for aging stars without a Stanley Cup ring to come because the team will always be a contender. That’s simply because it has a group of players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. And with that group, there’s always a chance the hockey gods will smile with a little bit of luck.

Why Didn’t the Maple Leafs Plan for the Pandemic? What Were They Thinking?

There’s no denying that things are exactly where they are. Once again the team failed to reach round two. The fans are angry and discouraged. Those feelings have once again been turned towards the team – especially towards Marner, it seems. Marner was too expensive: trade him for salary cap space. That seems to be the mood.

Related: Oilers History: The Paul Coffey Effect

From what I can see, there were two problems with the Maple Leafs’ plans after they signed Marner. First, they didn’t anticipate the pandemic and the impact it would have on the salary cap. Second, they choose a business that included a frozen sphere of hard rubber that could bounce anywhere, including over the glass without touching it at the worst possible time. Where’s the control in that?

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Obviously, I’m being ironic. But my point is that hockey is a tough business, with so many dynamic little moments and lots and lots of luck, good or bad. There are things even the smartest person simply can’t control. That’s why it’s both fun and – right now – frustrating.

Sadly, There’s Still a Learning Curve for This Team

That said, there are also things that can be controlled, and the truth is that the team didn’t control those things well enough to win. That’s why they lost the playoff series to the Montreal Canadiens. There remains some learning to do for this young team, its coach, and its off-ice leadership. But I think the process is solid. As I say, I know I might be alone in believing this.

Related: Bruce McNall: His Rise and Fall

Finally, maybe because I’m old, although I’m really disappointed and would like to still be writing about Zach Hyman digging pucks out of corners, or Nick Foligno scoring against Marc-Andre Fleury, or Tavares playing his first game after his concussion, I’m not going to jump on the trade-everyone-on-the-team bus that seems to be driving towards the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

Why Morgan Rielly Has to Go, and Why I Hate NHL Life

Given this context – the impact of COVID-19 on the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap space and the team still wallowing in their too recent playoff loss to the Canadiens – in this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’m going to whine about life in the NHL. Specifically, I’m going to be in a bad mood about the fact that I see no option except to move defenseman Morgan Rielly this offseason. And that makes me sad.

I think Rielly is a solid player, probably a better person, and the kind of player the team should build around. That said, the team simply can’t afford another internal rental; and, as hard as it is to do, I think general manager Kyle Dubas needs to pull the trigger way earlier on players even if it’s only for business reasons. He’s kept too many around one season too long.

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

Frederik Andersen was one. I know it’s way too easy to say this in retrospect, but trading Andersen before the 2020-21 season was the right thing to do. I have a feeling that Dubas tried to do that; and, certainly, there was noise to that effect. But, I have a feeling he only “sorta” tried. He wanted to give a goalie who had given so much to the team a chance to share the success. That’s great on a human level, but bad on a business level. The team will get stuck with nothing.

The Team Can’t Afford Getting Stuck with Nothing Again

I admit I hate this aspect of hockey. I loved the day when a player stayed with his team for an entire career. Still, that’s not the reality of the NHL today. And, given that reality, the team can’t get stuck with an “asset” they receive nothing for. It’s simple business – and also a bit heartless.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Eight Predictions for the 2021-22 Season

Trading Morgan Rielly this offseason is the right thing to do. I hate it, but this time Dubas just must do it. Certainly, the team will miss him; and, Rasmus Sandin’s solid play aside, I believe the team will not be better next season without Rielly.

But, for the long-term fortunes of the team, we have to say good-bye to Morgan Rielly. You are a class act, a good player, and a great representative for the organization. But, with every good feeling, I wish you well wherever you land.