The Toronto Maple Leafs have locked in a key piece of their blueline going forward, signing 22-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly to a six-year contract worth $30 million ($5 million AAV).
The contract, which buys two years of UFA eligibility, comes after a season in which Rielly set career highs in goals (9), assists (27), points (36), and time on ice per game (23+ minutes).
Below is the raw list of where Rielly slots in league wide based on cap hit in 2016-17.
|Player||Team||Age||2016-17 Cap Hit|
|Brooks Orpik||Washington Capitals||35||$5,500,000|
|James Wisniewski||Carolina Hurricanes||32||$5,500,000|
|Dan Girardi||New York Rangers||31||$5,500,000|
|Matthew Carle||Tampa Bay Lightning||31||$5,500,000|
|Andrej Sekera||Edmonton Oilers||29||$5,500,000|
|Jeff Petry||Montreal Canadiens||28||$5,500,000|
|Tyler Myers||Winnipeg Jets||26||$5,500,000|
|Nick Leddy||New York Islanders||25||$5,500,000|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||Arizona Coyotes||24||$5,500,000|
|Jay Bouwmeester||St. Louis Blues||32||$5,400,000|
|Mark Streit||Philadelphia Flyers||38||$5,250,000|
|Dennis Wideman||Calgary Flames||33||$5,250,000|
|Jared Spurgeon||Minnesota Wild||26||$5,187,500|
|Zach Bogosian||Buffalo Sabres||25||$5,142,857|
|Morgan Rielly||Toronto Maple Leafs||22||$5,000,000|
|Andy Greene||New Jersey Devils||33||$5,000,000|
|Alexander Edler||Vancouver Canucks||29||$5,000,000|
|Andrew MacDonald||Philadelphia Flyers||29||$5,000,000|
|Chris Pronger||Arizona Coyotes||41||$4,935,714|
|Marc Methot||Ottawa Senators||30||$4,900,000|
|Paul Martin||San Jose Sharks||35||$4,850,000|
|Justin Faulk||Carolina Hurricanes||24||$4,833,333|
|Niklas Kronwall||Detroit Red Wings||35||$4,750,000|
|Ryan McDonagh||New York Rangers||26||$4,700,000|
|TJ Brodie||Calgary Flames||25||$4,650,400|
|Jason Garrison||Tampa Bay Lightning||31||$4,600,000|
|Francois Beauchemin||Colorado Avalanche||35||$4,500,000|
|Fedor Tyutin||Columbus Blue Jackets||32||$4,500,000|
|Anton Stralman||Tampa Bay Lightning||29||$4,500,000|
|Christopher Tanev||Vancouver Canucks||26||$4,450,000|
|Jack Johnson||Columbus Blue Jackets||29||$4,357,143|
|Dmitry Kulikov||Florida Panthers||25||$4,333,333|
|Jonathan Ericsson||Detroit Red Wings||32||$4,250,000|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic||San Jose Sharks||29||$4,250,000|
|Kevin Shattenkirk||St. Louis Blues||27||$4,250,000|
|David Savard||Columbus Blue Jackets||25||$4,250,000|
|John Klingberg||Dallas Stars||23||$4,250,000|
|Oscar Klefbom||Edmonton Oilers||22||$4,167,000|
|Adam Larsson||New Jersey Devils||23||$4,166,667|
|Jonas Brodin||Minnesota Wild||22||$4,166,667|
|Alexei Emelin||Montreal Canadiens||29||$4,100,000|
|Niklas Hjalmarsson||Chicago Blackhawks||28||$4,100,000|
|Olli Matta||Pittsburgh Penguins||21||$4,083,333|
|Jake Gardiner||Toronto Maple Leafs||25||$4,050,000|
|Kevin Bieksa||Anaheim Ducks||34||$4,000,000|
|Dennis Seidenberg||Boston Bruins||34||$4,000,000|
|Alec Martinez||Los Angeles Kings||28||$4,000,000|
|Jake Muzzin||Los Angeles Kings||27||$4,000,000|
|Marco Scandella||Minnesota Wild||26||$4,000,000|
|Roman Josi||Nashville Predators||25||$4,000,000|
|Victor Hedman||Tampa Bay Lightning||25||$4,000,000|
|Cam Fowler||Anaheim Ducks||24||$4,000,000|
Among the younger defencemen on this list, Adam Larsson signed a one-year bridge contract after his ELC. Nick Leddy, TJ Brodie and Dmitry Kulikov signed two-year bridge deals after their ELC expired. Jared Spurgeon signed a three-year bridge.
John Klingberg and Roman Josi are also exceptions as they were signed after fewer than 100 NHL games to team-friendly long-term deals. Klingberg didn’t come to North America (beyond a handful of appearances for the Texas Stars) and play for the Stars full time until age 22.
Among these comparables, Myers, Faulk, Klefbom, Fowler, Gardiner, McDonagh, Ekman-Larsson, Matta, Brodin and Hedman all signed long term coming off of their ELCs.
On a points per game basis over his ELC, Rielly trails only Tyler Myers among these comparables, with Myers’ numbers buoyed by Calder Cup-winning production in his rookie year that he hasn’t been able to match since.
Rielly only slightly outproduced teammate Jake Gardiner over his ELC, but Rielly’s trajectory was a more stable upward one compared to Gardiner, who didn’t manage to match his rookie season output in the following two years of his first NHL contract. A significant factor to consider with Gardiner was the 2012-13 lockout year in which he only featured in 12 NHL games as he dealt with the setback of a significant concussion sustained on a bad hit while with the Marlies. Gardiner also broke the league at age 21, whereas Rielly was playing full time at 19.
The Justin Faulk contract comparison is a nearly perfect one on a points-per-game basis over their entry-level contracts, with their AAVs falling in a very similar range for their second contracts. Rielly’s even-strength production over his ELC (0.8 ppg/60) compares favourably to Faulk’s (0.69 ppg/60).
Rielly is clearly trending in the right direction en route to becoming a worthy top-pair defenceman in the NHL, although with a negative Team Rel Fenwick% of -0.7 over the duration of his ELC, there’s reason to be hesitant about declaring him one from a defensive standpoint as of today.
This past season, Rielly played big, tough minutes on a very poor team alongside a partner who is more fairly slotted as a bottom-pair guy in Matt Hunwick. The WOWY comparison shows some clear evidence that Hunwick dragged down Rielly, but keep in mind Rielly was being used in more offensive situations when apart from Hunwick whereas the opposite was true for Hunwick when apart from Rielly.
Morgan Rielly & Matt Hunwick — Together
Rielly Away from Hunwick
Hunwick Away from Rielly
Both Hunwick and Rielly allowed around 30 scoring chances against per 60, but Rielly made up for it with about the same number of scoring chances for per 60 (30.08 for, 30.0 against) whereas Hunwick did not (30.22 against, 26.81 for).
When playing with his second most common partner at 5v5, Martin Marincin, the pair managed to break even at 50.1 CF%. One of the easiest avenues for improvement for Rielly comes through getting him a more suitable partner. Also worth pointing out: Rielly’s ability to play both sides of the rink is an asset, but the adjustment to playing the right consistently next to Hunwick also likely had its effect on his possession and offensive numbers this season. Rielly set career highs across the board, but he also played significantly more minutes. His 0.75 5v5 pts per 60 rank him just 64th across the league among defencemen.
In addition to improving without the puck, Rielly still has room to improve in how he finishes off some of his tantalizing rushes – driving the net more often instead of circling wide, for instance — and in developing more a one-timer threat off the blueline. While his wrist shot was noticeably improved this season, his one-timer/slap shot is not where it needs to be yet to be an effective triggerman on the powerplay.
This is where Justin Faulk, to continue to use the comp because it fits so nicely, has an advantage in an area Rielly could stand to improve in. Thanks to a potent slapshot from the point, Faulk has managed to take a big step forward offensively on his second contract with 15 goals last season and 16 in only 64 games this season. 12 of Faulk’s 16 goals came on the powerplay this season. The Leafs are hopeful Rielly still has room to grow offensively – especially on the powerplay, where he only played 1:49 a game this season as Babcock had him focus on his own-zone game first – in addition to shoring up his defensive game as he matures as a defenceman.
It’s an intangible thing, but we’d be remiss not to mention that Rielly has often been described by coaches and management as one of the Leafs’ hardest working players off the ice – his training during the summers is the stuff of legend, no doubt endearing him to Babcock — and he sounds very committed to shoring up the areas of his game in need of improvement after this past season’s learning experience. He’s thought by some to be a future captain candidate for Babcock based on his advanced maturity and exemplary off-ice habits.
The Leafs moved very quickly to get this long-term contract done and leave no doubt as to Rielly’s place on their top pairing moving forward. Most indicators through three seasons of Rielly suggest this a smart bet; a team-friendly deal that avoids the type of “bridge” situation with high-end talent that rarely works out best for the club in the long run.