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O'Reilly: 'Not an easy decision' to leave Leafs for Predators

Michael Chisholm / National Hockey League / Getty

Ryan O'Reilly could've re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and taken another crack at bringing a Stanley Cup to his hometown team, but he opted to join the re-tooling Nashville Predators instead.

The 32-year-old center, who is a native of Clinton, Ontario - just over two hours west of Toronto - recently elaborated on his decision and said he thoroughly enjoyed his brief time with the Leafs.

"It was and is an amazing place to play," O'Reilly said of Toronto, according to Sportsnet's Adam Vingan. "Just putting on that jersey, you can just feel the love that comes with it, how much pride people take in that jersey. It's hockey's team. … It was definitely not an easy decision not (to re-sign) there."

It's no secret that playing in Toronto isn't easy, as the constant attention in hockey's biggest media market can be a lot to handle.

"You could tell everything's amplified," O'Reilly said. "I don’t do it often, (but) it was a good thing when I played there that I didn’t turn on the TV much or turn on the radio, because there are (so many outlets) talking about it. … Everything's covering it, talking about it. Here, it gets a little time on the TV, but it's not everything. It is more than just a game there."

Things are much different in Nashville - on and off the ice.

On the ice, the Leafs have become a perennial lock for the postseason in the Auston Matthews era. That's hardly the case for the Predators, who missed the playoffs with 92 points a year ago. Evolving-Hockey is projecting another 92-point campaign without a trip to the postseason in 2023-24.

The Predators also added another former Maple Leaf in Luke Schenn, but they lost multiple key members, including Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen. With that duo gone, O'Reilly will likely be the team's No. 1 center. He probably would've been third on the depth chart in Toronto.

Nashville gave O'Reilly a four-year contract with a $4.5-million cap hit - a deal Toronto was likely unwilling to match. But he cited family reasons, among others, for his decision to sign with the Predators.

"There were just so many things that were attractive to here," O'Reilly said. "We have something here that, if we do things the right way, we're going to be very competitive."

The Leafs landed O'Reilly from the St. Louis Blues prior to the 2023 trade deadline as part of a three-team swap in which they surrendered four draft picks, including a first-rounder. He managed 11 points in 13 regular season games with the Leafs, then added another nine points in 11 postseason contests.

O'Reilly, who won the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy, and Selke Trophy in 2019 with the Blues, has tallied 702 points in 991 career games.

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