Toronto's star defenceman Morgan Rielly has been a weak link since returning to the Leafs lineup after a month out with a knee injury. Rielly, who has been on the ice for 18 goals in 26 games at 5-on-5, signed an eight-year, $60-million extension in October 2021.
- All right, take a seat. Get comfortable. Let's talk about Morgan Rielly. The Leafs were playing great defensively when Rielly was injured. And then, when he came back, the turnovers started to pile up. Odd-man rushes started to continue-- started to increase. Now, is that causational? Or is it because of Rielly? Or is this correlated? Who knows? Morgan Rielly is a lot of great things on the ice. You know, he blocks a lot of shots. He deflects shots.
As far as being an extra advancing defenseman on the rush, it's great to see him there. In the offensive zone, he moves the puck pretty well, which is great. I think what sucks for Rielly right now is that the majority of his mistakes are legitimately becoming goals against. Turnovers in the neutral zone that come off of his stick end up becoming a goal. Poor defensive coverage on his end ends up becoming a goal. And it doesn't matter who Keefe plays him with.
He tried playing in with Hall. He's returned him with Brodie. He's tried playing with Conor Timmins. And every single time, there just seems to be some type of defensive breakdown. And Rielly is on the ice. Is this just because of who Rielly is as a player? No. I don't think Rielly has in a while been this, I guess, sloppy and loose in his own end when it comes to the defensive side of the puck. I don't think it's ever been this bad. I would like to think that maybe he's still taking time. His timing is off. His reads are off. And then as the season continues, he can kind of get that back up. Or at least he needs to.
The Leafs can't have Rielly playing 27 minutes, which he will, because he's relied on on this team, and making these kind of mistakes. And, again, it's unfortunate that every time-- when there's a goal against and he's on the ice, you can look at him and isolate him and say, OK, well, you probably could have done that. But maybe you could have taken a different option when it comes to the past, move the puck [INAUDIBLE] quicker, gotten back to the empty space, covered the person in front of the net.
So I don't think Morgan Rielly is horrible. I don't think he's a terrible player. I don't think the Leafs need to move him. But he does need to be better, especially if he's going to be relied on so much, not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs.