“I think you all know how I feel about being a Leaf. But there’s a business aspect to it. Being a Toronto Maple Leaf is pretty special to me.” These were the words said by defenseman Morgan Rielly during his media avail on Wednesday. He talked about his desire to return to the Leafs, but knows that hockey isn’t just about what a player or a team might want, but that it’s a business. His contract status suggests things aren’t going to be simple.
Rielly’s current deal expires with the team at the end of this season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent and based on the cost of defensemen like himself, his new deal may come in at a price the Leafs can’t afford. This is especially true if the team struggles this season and there are big changes made to the roster.
He was asked about how current negotiations might be going with the organization and responded: “You just deal with it as it comes. My approach [with the media] is I don’t want to discuss it publicly. I feel great, I’m ready for the season. I understand the question; I think about it too. But I’m just going to go about my business.”
When it comes to the Maple Leafs as a whole, there is talk that conversations were had heading into this season that the players have been told there’s a belief in this group, but that this season needs to be one where the team takes a big step forward. Failure to do so could result in some massive roster changes. While it no one has come right and out said it, perhaps Rielly is the first of those rumored changes.
Rielly would be the easiest player to move. If the NHL Trade Deadline comes and the Maple Leafs are not playing up to the level the organization expects of them, there will be plenty of teams happy to consider the blueliner as a rental. The Leafs would be wise to move him, especially if it appears Rielly will move on in free agency.
Dubas has continually cast aside chatter that players like Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner would be moved, again laughing off Marner rumors at Wednesday’s media avail. While this doesn’t directly lead to a link that Rielly will be moved, it certainly ups the odds if Dubas is unwilling to trade his two star forwards.