Limited salary-cap space prevented the Toronto Maple Leafs from making significant additions to their lineup this summer. That issue could also cost them Morgan Rielly next summer.
A big-minute, puck-moving defenseman, the 27-year-old Rielly is an invaluable member of the Leafs' core. He's entering the final season of his contract with a cap hit of $5 million.
The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons observed young defensemen such as Edmonton's Darnell Nurse, Colorado's Cale Makar, Chicago's Seth Jones and Dallas' Miro Heiskanen signing lucrative long-term contracts this summer worth over $8 million annually. He considers that figure as the going rate for a blueliner of Rielly's caliber.
A better comparable is Dougie Hamilton, who recently inked a seven-year contract with an annual average value of $9 million. Rielly could get as much, perhaps more, via next summer's open market.
Cap Friendly shows the Leafs carrying $67.78 million invested in 14 players for 2022-23. Like Rielly, goaltender Jack Campbell is also eligible for UFA status while rearguard Rasmus Sandin is their noteworthy restricted free agent.
Simmons believes the Leafs face a difficult situation with Rielly. They can lose him for nothing to free agency or pay big bucks to re-sign him. The latter option means shipping out someone else to free up sufficient cap room. Letting him walk, on the other hand, leaves a big hole on their blueline that will be difficult to fill with meager cap space.
Rielly's status will be an ongoing topic of discussion in Leafs Nation throughout this season. The longer he's unsigned, the more uncertain his future in Toronto is.