Would New Jersey Devils Want Toronto Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly?

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44): (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44): (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New Jersey Devils still desperately need defensive help. There are some intriguing young prospects like Kevin Bahl, Reilly Smith, Michael Vukojevic, Shakir Mukhamadullin, and Nikita Okhotyuk that are in different levels of production. The Devils have two pretty good right-handed defensemen in Damon Severson and P.K. Subban, while their left side right now is Ty Smith and a lot of question marks. The Devils need a player who can play big minutes on the top line on either side.

Morgan Rielly has been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top guy for years, but they’ve always acquired some pretty good players around him. They’ve added Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, and Tyson Barrie to really solidify the position over the years. Some have fit well, while others have not fit at all.

The Maple Leafs will perpetually be in cap trouble with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares on the books for north of $10 million apiece. They have $11 million in cap space next season. It doesn’t sound that bad, but when looking at the players they still need it turns dire. They have nine forwards signed not including possible prospects (former Devils prospect Joey Anderson should get a shot). They also only have Jack Campbell signed in net.

Could all of these veterans re-sign for the minimum like Jason Spezza did? Possibly, but a player like Zach Hyman isn’t doing that. Neither is Nick Foligno. So, they either have to keep their roster mostly intact and pray players to accept a pay cut. The situation is not great.

There aren’t many moveable pieces for the Leafs to get better, but Morgan Rielly is definitely one of them. He’s a left-handed defenseman who can play top-line minutes as he’s proven the past few seasons. He’s averaged more than 23 minutes per game for the past three seasons and he’s averaged north of 20 every season outside of his rookie year. He is absolutely a minutes eater.

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It sounds preposterous that the Leafs would trade their top defenseman who’s only making $5 million on the cap next season, but next season is the last season on his contract. He’s 27 years old, and he could be looking to cash in. There are too many long-term contracts in Toronto, and they really can’t afford another “cash in”. One team that could afford it is the Devils.

The question now becomes, “should they?”. The Devils have a desperate need on the left side. It’s looking more and more likely that Ryan Murray is leaving in free agency (unless there’s a plan involving the expansion draft in place). That leaves Jonas Siegenthaler, Will Butcher, and Ty Smith on the left side. It’s a fine group, but it’s not anything to go home about. Rielly would push Smith to the second line and Siegenthaler and Butcher could fight for the final spot. That does look a lot better.

His age and contract status are a stressor. Also, the Leafs aren’t going to let him go cheap. It’s going to cost the Devils some significant prospects or picks. If Rielly is looking to make it to free agency, then it’s a bad move for the Devils. They won’t do enough next season to convince him to stay short of throwing a boatload of cash at him. The risk doesn’t fit the reward unless the Leafs lower trade demands or Rielly is willing to talk extension.