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The Toronto Maple Leafs and top defenceman Morgan Rielly will continue their partnership for another eight seasons, agreeing Friday on a maximum-term $60 million extension.
Rielly's deal will keep the former fifth overall selection in 2012 and longest-serving active roster member with the organization through the 2029-30 season.
If he does see through the life of the deal, he'll have spent 17 seasons in blue and white. He could very well end his career as the franchise's all-time leader in games played.
Morgan Rielly could very easily end his career as the franchise's leader in games played. He would be considered on pace for more than 1300. George Armstrong is the current leader at 1188.
— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) October 29, 2021
It is possible that the partnership ends before Rielly reaches that milestone, as his full no-movement clause expires after six seasons. It's believed that he will have to assemble a 10-team trade list for the final two seasons of the deal.
At first blush, Rielly is leaving a considerable amount of money on the table to remain with the Maple Leafs for the long term. Though it seems like a fair valuation for a No. 1 defenceman who may be considered beneath the elite tier of defenders, the free market would likely table offers worth in excess of $9 million annually. A group of comparables, including Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, signed for $9.5 million this past offseason.
While those deals seem to be slight over-payments, at least right now, it seems like Rielly is being priced correctly at $7.5 million, which is a huge win given his leverage as a pending unrestricted free agent.
It is very clear that Rielly is committed to the Maple Leafs, and seeing this process through, when at a point it seems his days were surely numbered. That's commendable for reasons beyond earning potential given the amount of noise around the Maple Leafs and the fact that management is encountering more and more difficultly from a team-building perspective.
His priorities in this process appear to be different compared to some of his peers.
Despite the value in the deal, the financial squeeze on Leafs management continues to intensify, and Reilly's extension only adds to it. Rielly earning $2.5 million more on the salary cap will use up the $1.2 million of retained money coming off the books this summer with Phil Kessel's deal expiring, plus another $1.3 million. As it stands now, the Leafs will have eight earners pulling in more than $62 million, while their No. 1 netminder remains without an extension.
It very much seems like current members of the Leafs should be looking over their shoulder in part due to the Rielly deal. It also further underscores the strange decision to commit so much money and term to injured backup netminder Petr Mrazek.
Lastly, the timing is interesting for several reasons. It could plant the seed in the minds of players that change is imminent. And while it is very early, the Leafs are trending toward a down season, and selling Rielly would be considered an unusual and perhaps isolated opportunity to recoup assets.
Both considerations, however, fail to measure up to seizing the opportunity to lock down a top defenceman for below market value, which is what the Leafs accomplished Friday.
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