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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).

Quick Comparables

Below is the raw list of where Rielly slots in league wide based on cap hit in 2016-17.

PlayerTeamAge2016-17 Cap Hit
Brooks OrpikWashington Capitals35$5,500,000
James WisniewskiCarolina Hurricanes32$5,500,000
Dan GirardiNew York Rangers31$5,500,000
Matthew CarleTampa Bay Lightning31$5,500,000
Andrej SekeraEdmonton Oilers29$5,500,000
Jeff PetryMontreal Canadiens28$5,500,000
Tyler MyersWinnipeg Jets26$5,500,000
Nick LeddyNew York Islanders25$5,500,000
Oliver Ekman-LarssonArizona Coyotes24$5,500,000
Jay BouwmeesterSt. Louis Blues32$5,400,000
Mark StreitPhiladelphia Flyers38$5,250,000
Dennis WidemanCalgary Flames33$5,250,000
Jared SpurgeonMinnesota Wild26$5,187,500
Zach BogosianBuffalo Sabres25$5,142,857
Morgan RiellyToronto Maple Leafs22$5,000,000
Andy GreeneNew Jersey Devils33$5,000,000
Alexander EdlerVancouver Canucks29$5,000,000
Andrew MacDonaldPhiladelphia Flyers29$5,000,000
Chris ProngerArizona Coyotes41$4,935,714
Marc MethotOttawa Senators30$4,900,000
Paul MartinSan Jose Sharks35$4,850,000
Justin FaulkCarolina Hurricanes24$4,833,333
Niklas KronwallDetroit Red Wings35$4,750,000
Ryan McDonaghNew York Rangers26$4,700,000
TJ BrodieCalgary Flames25$4,650,400
Jason GarrisonTampa Bay Lightning31$4,600,000
Francois BeaucheminColorado Avalanche35$4,500,000
Fedor TyutinColumbus Blue Jackets32$4,500,000
Anton StralmanTampa Bay Lightning29$4,500,000
Christopher TanevVancouver Canucks26$4,450,000
Jack JohnsonColumbus Blue Jackets29$4,357,143
Dmitry KulikovFlorida Panthers25$4,333,333
Jonathan EricssonDetroit Red Wings32$4,250,000
Marc-Edouard VlasicSan Jose Sharks29$4,250,000
Kevin ShattenkirkSt. Louis Blues27$4,250,000
David SavardColumbus Blue Jackets25$4,250,000
John KlingbergDallas Stars23$4,250,000
Oscar KlefbomEdmonton Oilers22$4,167,000
Adam LarssonNew Jersey Devils23$4,166,667
Jonas BrodinMinnesota Wild22$4,166,667
Alexei EmelinMontreal Canadiens29$4,100,000
Niklas HjalmarssonChicago Blackhawks28$4,100,000
Olli MŠŠattaPittsburgh Penguins21$4,083,333
Jake GardinerToronto Maple Leafs25$4,050,000
Kevin BieksaAnaheim Ducks34$4,000,000
Dennis SeidenbergBoston Bruins34$4,000,000
Alec MartinezLos Angeles Kings28$4,000,000
Jake MuzzinLos Angeles Kings27$4,000,000
Marco ScandellaMinnesota Wild26$4,000,000
Roman JosiNashville Predators25$4,000,000
Victor HedmanTampa Bay Lightning25$4,000,000
Cam FowlerAnaheim Ducks24$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.

Screenshot 2016-04-13 09.14.55

Screenshot 2016-04-13 09.17.08
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

TOIGF60GA60GF%CF60CA60CF%OZoneStart%
1443:36:001.912.874059.0659.5249.846.8

Rielly Away from Hunwick

TOIGF60GA60GF%CF60CA60CF%OZoneStart%
707:48:002.122.843.162.1457.7351.849.1

Hunwick Away from Rielly

TOIGF60GA60GF%CF60CA60CF%OZoneStart%
316:48:001.522.0842.153.663.4545.839.9

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.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at alec.brownscombe@mapleleafshotstove.com.