The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of some important business when they signed defenseman Morgan Rielly to a long-term extension on Friday. A piece the team absolutely didn’t want to lose, Rielly’s deal is being looked at as a win by most fans and insiders since his price point comes in at a cost much less than many of the big-ticket defensemen who signed for huge contracts this NHL offseason.
Unfortunately, the news is not all good.
While Rielly’s deal solves one of the bigger problems for the Maple Leafs on their blue line, it opens up a potential problem in goal.
Rielly’s Deal Means Jack Campbell Extension Complications
Josh Wegman of The Score makes a good point when he writes, “While getting Rielly signed was rightly Toronto’s priority, it’s easy to overlook that goaltender Jack Campbell is set to become a UFA at season’s end.” He adds, “Getting him signed could now prove to be difficult.”
So too, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek talked about cap implications for the Leafs after the Rielly extension and noted Campbell is due a new deal and Friedman says Campbell’s side will be looking at Cal Petersen’s contract (3 years by $5 million per) at the very least as a comparable.
This poses an issue for the Maple Leafs, since the team only has so much salary cap room to sign contract extensions. For the most part, every big-money deal with one player means another one likely has to go. And, because the Leafs are now going to be paying well over half their salary cap hit to five players, the franchise absolutely needs to tread carefully moving forward. In this case, the player who could be mostly affected is Campbell who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and looking for a heft raise on his $1.65 million per season salary.
Maple Leafs Set the Floor With Mrazek
As Wegman points out, part of the issue is that Toronto just committed to a deal with goaltender Petr Mrazek. The three-year signing with a $3.8-million AAV has now set the internal floor for what Campbell will be worth on a new extension. Assuming Campbell outplays Mrazek — something that shouldn’t be too difficult to do considering how good Campbell has been — this $3.8 million is likely a very low comparable.
Wegman writes, “a $4-million AAV seems like Campbell’s floor. And he’d be well within his right to ask for $5 million or more.” $5 million isn’t a bad deal if Campbell keeps up his production, but it’s a mountain of money for the Leafs who will have trouble coming up with that sort of space now.
If the Maple Leafs can’t afford Campbell, they’ll need to find a replacement for him and that won’t be an inexpensive adventure either.
Where Will the Leafs Make Sacrifices?
It’s not just the Mrazek contract that creates a potential issue here. The Maple Leafs will have around $5.38 million in cap space next season with a number of key players unsigned. Ondrej Kase and Pierre Engvall are both restricted free agents, while Jason Spezza likely returns as a league-minimum UFA if he wants. The bigger focus will be on the blue line where Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will both need new deals as well.
One way to create cap space for Campbell would be trading away forwards Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5M AAV) and Nick Ritchie ($2.5M AAV), whose contracts expire after next season. Kerfoot has underperformed relative to his cap hit since joining Toronto, and Ritchie, who was signed this past summer, hasn’t made a strong first impression. Neither deal should be too troublesome to get rid of.
Is There Good News on the Campbell Front?
Perhaps the best news is that Campbell really likes being a Maple Leaf. If that factors into his free agency decision, perhaps the Leafs can get him on a contract that isn’t as hefty as some people believe it could be if he continues to play well. The Leafs need to cross their fingers that this is what Campbell is thinking about.
A discount would be the best possible outcome for GM Kyle Dubas who has to know that Campbell will get interest on the open market. While the goaltender hasn’t been perfect, he has been outstanding since joining the Leafs in a trade from the Los Angeles Kings. His .920 save percentage in 35 regular-season games with the team and a .934 save percentage in seven playoff contests is exactly the type of goaltending the Leafs need.
The question will now be just how much it costs them to keep it around.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”