The Toronto Maple Leafs’ stunning first-round elimination by the Montreal Canadiens left Toronto fans and pundits wondering if management could shake up the roster core.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas dismissed the idea of moving Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. Their comments suggest minor moves could be in the offing.
If they do make a significant change, perhaps Morgan Rielly becomes a trade candidate. Cap Friendly shows the 27-year-old defenseman is due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. His current annual average value of $5 million and he has a 10-team no-trade list.
The Leafs can open contract extension talks with Rielly this summer. He could seek a new annual salary around $8 million. With $56.6 million invested in eight players for 2022-23, re-signing him will bite deeply into their long-term cap space.
Jonas Siegel of The Athletic wondered if the Leafs would consider trading Rielly should they fail to reach an agreement before his UFA eligibility. A big-minute puck-moving defenseman, he’d fetch a substantial return.
Trading Rielly would free up cap space for other roster moves but it leaves a big gap on their blueline. Siegel believes they better have a clear plan to replace him. He doesn’t consider Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott ready yet for top-four duty.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones could be a replacement option. However, he’s also slated to become a UFA next summer and would cost at least as much as it would to sign Rielly. Jones is also a right-side defenseman whereas Rielly skates on the left side.