It’s 30 Thoughts Day! While we are dealing with a much more tight lipped front office this year and as a result there have been fewer leaks to insiders, Elliotte Friedman still manages to deliver the goods.
He elaborated on his Kadri to St. Louis speculation from his Reddit AMA, but he also dropped this new tidbit for us.
22. Sounds like contract talks have started with Morgan Rielly. Next time we hear about it will probably be when he signs.
With this comes a lot of questions about what Rielly’s next deal should look like. Does it make sense to bridge him or does it make sense to go long term?
My personal preference is towards going long term with Morgan immediately, and I think the organization might see the things the same way I do.
The Leafs have been hard at work clearing cap space, and making it so that they will be free of commitments when players like Marner, Nylander, Kapanen are all scheduled for free agency. We also have the long term deal awarded to Jake Gardiner that right now looks like one of the best deals in hockey. Landing Gardiner for 5 years at a shade over $4M isn’t a bad comparable for Rielly. You’d assume he’d get a bit for the way the Leafs have used him and the fact that he’s a former top five pick, but potentially there’s an opportunity to make that up with additional term.
At this point the only defenseman from Rielly’s draft class that has signed is Ryan Murray, getting a bridge deal for 2 years with a cap hit of $2.825M. Rielly’s numbers are better than Murray’s so there’s already a strong possibility that you’ll need to break the $3M threshold, so the potential gap between bridge savings and going long term is already closing. With Rielly already quite comfortably being a top four defender, it’s probably best to proceed in a manner that gives you the best contract for the longest period of time with a good player.
The fact that negotiations are already underway is a good thing. With Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, and Hampus Lindholm all scheduled for restricted free agency, there is a benefit to getting out ahead of the pack and not having an agent negotiating using recent comparables. Arbitration isn’t an option for Rielly, but it would be unfortunate to be derailed by Trouba receiving an excessive amount because the Jets had to pay him more to not complain about living in Winnipeg.
If I’m picking a long term deal that I think suits Rielly’s situation, I think you have to look at Justin Faulk’s six year $4.833M/yr deal. Both Faulk and Rielly are young top pairing defencemen, and with the salary cap not really escalating beyond what it was when Faulk signed his deal, there seems like there’s some potential to do something very similar and enjoy affordable defence for years to come.
Like Friedman said, we’re not likely to hear about Rielly again until it’s finalized, and that’s probably a good thing. Compared to Claude Loiselle, it’s immeasurable how much more faith I have in Brandon Pridham to finalize a contract that won’t hog tie the Leafs. Now we’ll just have to worry about Kadri’s next contract, assuming he’s a Leaf past the deadline.