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Should the Leafs consider trading Morgan Rielly?

If this post is going to make you upset, please keep reading. If it isn’t, please keep reading and then send me a note of agreement when you’re finished. I’ll appreciate it.

Yes, I’ll say it: The Leafs should consider trading Morgan Rielly. I’d go a bit further and speculate they’ve already talked about it. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this under the premise of “All players should be available and open to evaluation on the trade market”. While that might be partly true, or you may personally believe in it, I still think Rielly in particular is a player this front office would target as needing a lot of discussions in regard to what they want to do with him in the future.

There’s a chance that future is now, or not far down the road. The Leafs have decisions to make on how they want their blueline to look, and Rielly likely isn’t untouchable. He shouldn’t be.

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There’s been a lot of rumbling about how the Leafs are looking hard at extending Jake Muzzin beyond this season. From there the conversation naturally shifts to how the team wants things shored up with their defence corps. Muzzin, Rielly, Dermott, Sandin, all left-shooting. The right side? Ceci, who’s almost sure to walk. Barrie, who’s almost sure to walk. Then it’s…uhh…Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren locking things down as best they can. And while that isn’t the end of the world — you could easily piece together three pairs with 44, 8, 23, 38, 3 and Lilly — it just seems like there’s room to make the team a whole lot better and well-rounded by shipping out Rielly. Especially considering, you know, Rielly isn’t all that good.

Sure, he can score and he can skate fast. But there’s mounting evidence over the course of Rielly’s career that he gives up as much as he earns while on the ice, perhaps even ceding more. Sound defensively he is not, and the Leafs could stand to improve in that area. They have plenty of players who can pot goals.

If you are someone who’d entertain moving him, the big question surrounding Rielly is value. With such a major amount of output offensively the last couple seasons, he’s certainly a player that would garner a lot of interest, especially at his number on the cap and relatively young age. I quickly posed the question to Twitter and it seemed most people were torn on whether or not it would be futures coming back – a lot had a hard time picturing a player-for-player deal, there aren’t that many out there. But one thing folks were rightfully adamant on was acquiring a right-side defenceman in return, whether established (think Pietrangelo) or yet-to-be (think Shea Theodore when Vegas got him in expansion).

But for the sake of discussion and speculation, let’s circle back to the Blues, since they usually draw interest in these Leafs armchair trade talks. Let’s say Pietrangelo’s upcoming UFA contract, which will be huge, forces them into a decision on him or Parayko. Let’s go further and say they’re okay with moving on from Parayko, and Toronto gets in on that with a Rielly package.

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How does this look going into 2020-21?

Sandin-Parayko, Muzzin-Liljegren, Dermott-Holl

Is a defence corps that includes Rielly and has to move around one of Dermott or Sandin to the right side better than this? For my money, definitely not.

And that’s the thing; If Rielly is overvalued on the trade market, and I’d say there’s a decent chance he is due to his boxcar output, trading him might be the best way to upgrade the team overall. It’s arguably the greatest chance you have at winning a trade, whereas everything you could dream up seems a lot more lateral.

And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant as a Rielly hit piece. He’s got major offensive instincts and has shown to be a leader of this team through some highs and lows, for that the city rightfully loves him. But he is in a sweet spot of having a decent cap number at an age that makes him a strong target in the trade market, with production that will likely make teams believe he’s more than he is. Which is to say if Leafs fans can pretty clearly see he has problems defensively, the front office definitely does too.

With Sandin likely to move well past him on balance within a year or so (if he hasn’t already), and Muzzin looking at potentially returning, Dubas and co. have decisions to make with how they want the defence to look for the remainder of Keefe’s contract over the next two years. Given how much trust they put in their own development model and graduating their own guys to the NHL, along with being unafraid to make a bold if unpopular trade, Rielly has to be on the table as a potential move-out in the coming months.

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