TORONTO (Feb. 11) — Forget about another defenseman or depth forward. As he nears the National Hockey League trade deadline, Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving should try to obtain an inanimate object.
Not once in the Core–4 era have the Leafs reacted so bitterly to an attack than the one perpetrated upon their vacated net in the dying seconds at Ottawa Saturday night. Have your way with one of our teammates? That’s okay. Take liberties on the ice with our wispy defensemen? Not an issue. But, never — I mean NEVER!! — propel the puck in ecstasy at our mesh. Especially with no person between the pipes to absorb the shock. You’ll pay for that.
These, ladies and gentlemen, are your Toronto Maple Leafs. Have been for close to a decade. It was Morgan Rielly who lost his cool after Ridly Greig clinched the Ottawa triumph with an exaggerated slapshot from 20 feet.
Perhaps a silly move — clearly unnecessary — but less so when you consider the routine hot–dogging by Auston Matthews whenever he scores a goal, even if it has no impact on the game and comes against an inferior opponent. No. 34 with extended arms and moving fingers, as if to say “come on, cheer louder; look what I just did.” Still burned into memory is an empty net tally in the first–ever visit to Scotiabank Arena by the Seattle Kraken (Mar. 8, 2022) and a hyperbolic war dance performed by the Toronto sniper. Yes, it completed a hattrick. But, against a really bad expansion team playing on the road. And, with no goalie on the ice. That’s okay. But, do not slap the puck into our net in a similar circumstance. Otherwise, one of us will try to break a stick across the side of your neck.
By the way, Greig’s father, Mark, played 13 games with the Leafs in 1993–94, scoring twice.
I’m of two minds as it pertains to the Rielly cheap–shot: It was alarmingly comparable to the frustration shown by Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals when he attacked Pierre Turgeon of the New York Islanders after a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs on Apr. 28, 1993. For that transgression, Hunter drew a 25–game suspension from Gary Bettman, the newly named commissioner of the National Hockey League. Compared to Rielly, however, Hunter was a mass murderer, with a lengthy rap sheet in the NHL. Rielly has a clean record after 13 years as Toronto’s No. 1 blueliner and de facto captain. Until now. Precisely how Bettman encourages his player safety guy, George Parros, to handle the Rielly crosscheck will be known before the Maple Leafs next play, Tuesday night, at home against the St. Louis Blues. Morgan has an in–person hearing with Parros, which normally leads to a minimum five games without pay. Rielly won’t get 25 games, but might he incur a six–game hiatus, given the flagrant similarity to a violation by Detroit veteran David Perron against Ottawa’s Artem Zub on Dec. 9? Perron appealed the suspension, only to have it upheld by Bettman. How can the commissioner view Rielly’s crosscheck differently?
It was written that the Leafs “did not make Rielly available to the media” after the incident on Saturday. Which is hogwash. Nobody tells the veteran Toronto defenseman when he can meet with reporters. Rielly does so after virtually every game, no matter the circumstance. I can almost guarantee that Morgan kept out of view at the Canadian Tire Centre because he felt embarrassed by his reaction to the empty net slapper. As he reflects on the incident in the coming days, Morgan will undoubtedly express remorse. He’s too smart a player for such a loss of control. And, though he remains a tier beneath the legitimate Norris Trophy candidates (Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson, Victor Hedman), Morgan understands how critical he is to the Maple Leafs, a club battling to stay among the top three in the Atlantic Division. As of today, Toronto and Detroit are the playoff wild card teams in the East. The Maple Leafs are four uncomfortable points removed from sitting out the dance altogether.
So, Rielly’s absence for at least a half–dozen games will hurt the Blue and White.
Neither did coach Sheldon Keefe distinguish himself by calling the attack “appropriate.”
The big Maple Leafs question, however, is this: When will the players react with similar vengeance to liberties against a teammate? When Brad Marchand of the Bruins nearly propelled Tim Liljegren through the end boards at TD Garden on Nov. 2, the visitors stood around like frightened rabbits. It was a glaring microcosm of the skilled, yet passive team that cannot stack up, physically, in the playoffs. None of Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner or John Tavares adjust particularly well to the crash and bang of Stanley Cup toil. If the Leafs qualify again this season, an opponent slapping the puck at their empty net will seem rather trivial, with much–bigger obstacles to overcome. One measly appearance since 2017 in the second round of the Cup tournament has proven, unequivocally, how ill–prepared the Brendan Shanahan Leafs are for the time of season that matters.
The emotional reaction of the Hockey Night In Canada intermission panel to Rielly’s crosscheck was predictable. Sportsnet (Rogers) owns 37.5% of the Leafs and understands where its bread is buttered. As such, and with the notable exception of Kelly Hrudey (again), there was lots of whooping, high–fiving and celebrating the “response” from Rielly in Ottawa. “It may be worth two games,” casually spouted a member of the panel. Only Hrudey, tactfully stepping outside the lines, insisted the crosscheck was worth six matches. And, he’ll be closest to correct.
In the Toronto Star, veteran hockey scribe Kevin McGran also tip–toed: Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly has 767 NHL games to his credit and has never faced supplemental discipline from the league. But his cross–check to the head of Ottawa’s Ridly Greig in the dying moments [on Saturday] will put that to the test… [the empty net slapper] rankled Rielly, who skated after Greig, caught him at the boards and cross–checked him. Though Rielly’s stick may have glanced off Greig’s shoulder pad, it hit him fully in the face and the Senator fell to the ice.
Yes, Kevin, Rielly was aiming for Greig’s “shoulder pad” (sigh).
In the Ottawa Sun, long–time scribe Bruce Garrioch wrote: Apparently, there’s a right and wrong way to score an empty net goal. Should Greig have slapped the puck with every ounce of energy he had? In the words of former captain Daniel Alfredsson, probably not. But this was a rivalry game and these are just different because it just feels like a playoff game when the two teams skate onto the ice… the point was made to me in a text from a friend Sunday morning that you don’t see National Football League players attacking each other because they didn’t like the way the ball was spiked after an opposing player scored a touchdown. Precisely. Think of the rehearsed end–zone celebrations in the NFL and CFL. Or, the theatrical slam–dunks in basketball games, regardless of the score.
By comparison, Greig nudged the puck across the goal–line on Saturday with his pinky finger.
Over to you, George Parros.
FROM THE VAULT…
Random items in my collection of sports publications:
GREY CUP PROGRAMS FROM 1962 AND 1965 AT THE OLD CNE STADIUM HERE IN TORONTO. HAMILTON TIGER–CATS vs. WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS IN EACH. THE ’62 GAME IS KNOWN AS THE “FOG BOWL”, AS A DENSE CLOUD LAYER OFF LAKE ONTARIO REDUCED VISIBILITY TO ZERO IN THE SECOND HALF. THE FINAL NINE MINUTES WERE PLAYED THE FOLLOWING DAY. THE ’65 GAME IS REMEMBERED AS THE “WIND BOWL” — 50 MILE–PER–HOUR GUSTS FROM THE WEST PROMPTED WINNIPEG COACH BUD GRANT TO CONCEDE THREE SAFETY TOUCHES. HAMILTON WON, 22–16.
MEDIA GUIDES FROM THE THIRD AND SIXTH SEASONS OF THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS.
THE FIRST BOOK TO EVOLVE FROM THE FAMED SUMMIT SERIES OF 1972. AND, AN AUTOGRAPH FROM PAUL HENDERSON ON THE ICONIC PHOTO OF HIS WINNING GOAL WITH 34 SECONDS LEFT.
CANADIAN FOOTBALL NEWS WAS A MONTHLY PRODUCTION IN THE 60’s AND 70’s BY THE SAME COMPANY THAT PUBLISHED THE HOCKEY NEWS EACH WEEK DURING THE NHL SEASON. OTTAWA QUARTERBACK RUSS JACKSON ADORNED THE NOVEMBER 1969 COVER (LEFT) WHILE GARNEY HENLEY OF THE TIGER–CATS WAS FEATURED IN THE MULTI–PHOTO COVER OF OCTOBER 1972.
THE LOS ANGELES KINGS WERE STILL WEARING PURPLE AND GOLD IN 1976–77 AND 1979–80.
OFFICIAL GUIDES FROM THE LAST SEASON OF THE SIX–TEAM NHL (LEFT) AND THE FIRST SEASON OF THE NEWLY EXPANDED LEAGUE (RIGHT), WHICH DOUBLED TO 12 TEAMS FOR 1967–68.
COVERS OF HOCKEY PICTORIAL MAGAZINE FROM DECEMBER 1966 (LEFT) AND APRIL–MAY 1968.
SUPER BOWL LVIII PREDICTION: Kansas City 27, San Francisco 23.