Where will Ryan O’Reilly play during the 2023-24 season? I for one would love to see him remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs; however, I can also understand – a bit – why, when you are 32 years old and have a chance at one more big contract, you might jump at it.
Remain With the Maple Leafs or Go Big?
O’Reilly has a dilemma. I have to assume that the Maple Leafs would like to have him as part of their roster; but, at what price? Given the team’s salary structure, it would seem that he’s more likely to explore other options in free agency.
In some ways, it’s part of the job of being a professional athlete. However, playing at home – even for a bit less money – would also have some attraction.
O’Reilly Delivered, Just Not Enough
When the Maple Leafs acquired O’Reilly from the St. Louis Blues, he was seen as a move that would bolster the team’s chances of making a deep playoff run. O’Reilly came in as a player with a Stanley Cup win, Conn Smythe Trophy, and Selke Trophy to his name. He was expected to bring valuable experience and leadership to the team.
He did bring all that. But he just couldn’t provide the final push to get over the hump and past the second round of the playoffs. During the playoffs, O’Reilly played a crucial role. He contributed key goals and made key plays.
He showcased his abilities by scoring game-tying goals, registering assists, and winning faceoffs. With O’Reilly’s help, the Maple Leafs advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
Regardless, O’Reilly Likely Won’t Remain with the Team
However, despite O’Reilly’s contributions, the team is unlikely to be able to pony up enough salary-cap space to make a space for him. That means O’Reilly will probably not return to the Maple Leafs for the 2023-24 season.
He seems to know the writing is on the wall. During his end-of-season media availability, he expressed gratitude for joining the organization. He also mentioned that he had cherished his time playing for Toronto. It was hard to hear that without thinking that he knew he was on his way somewhere else.
The Issue Is Likely the Contract Numbers
These remarks suggest that, although he might desire to return, he won’t be in a Maple Leafs’ Blue and White uniform next season. It likely just comes down to money.
On one hand, O’Reilly would be inconsiderate of his family’s needs if he simply thought of his own interests. He’s pushed, as anyone would be, toward choices that benefit the ones he cares for. That means he’ll make the decision that best secures a significant contract. Given his age, this contract will likely be the last major one of his career.
The projected contract for O’Reilly is estimated to be about a 4-year term worth $5.5 million annually. Considering the salary cap constraints of the Maple Leafs and their need to stay under the cap ceiling, it seems unlikely the team could accommodate such a high contract without making other roster moves.
A Secondary Issue Is Skating Speed
Furthermore, O’Reilly’s footspeed limits him at this stage of his career. And, while we don’t know what new general manager Brad Treliving will prioritize, the Maple Leafs might choose to add more speed to their lineup. Therefore, should O’Reilly wish to return to Toronto, he would likely be asked to take a shorter term with a lower average annual value (AAV).
It’s understandable that such a deal might not align with what we presume to be O’Reilly’s goal of maximizing his earning potential.
The Bottom Line
Given all these factors, O’Reilly expects to explore free agency to seek an opportunity where he can sign a more lucrative contract. Such a decision would allow him a chance to cash in on his experience and skill set. It also would link him up with a team that aligned with his goals and provided a better fit.
The bottom line is that it’s nice to be wanted – here or somewhere else.