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Why would the Leafs ever have Morgan Rielly play here this season?

Well, it’s now clear that, if there is a shortened NHL season (with training camps starting in the second week or so of January) Morgan Rielly will in fact get a chance to make the Maple Leaf roster.  It’s not just idle speculation.

Brian Burke confirmed that point when he told reporters at the World junior Championships that Rielly would indeed be at camp, and if Maple Leaf Head coach Randy Carlyle wants him on the roster, Rielly will be on the Leaf roster.

My question is: why is this even being discussed?

Here we are - with one of the worst rosters in hockey - even considering keeping Rielly on the team.  I can’t believe they would even contemplate this, much less do it.  I don’t even like the idea of bringing him to camp.  Why, when he is in the midst of a successful junior season?  Just so he gets to see NHL’ers up close?  He’ll get that opportunity at training camp next fall.  For now, he should be allowed to develop and focus on his junior career so he can finish the season strongly.  Let him play a lot, build on his World junior experience—and get better.

What, exactly, is the rush with an 18 year-old, especially one not that far removed from a serious injury? 

I have nothing but questions:
  • Is Rielly the guy who will get us into the playoffs? (Goodness, do we think he will help us win a Cup this season?)
  • Who are the successful, experienced veterans on the Leaf who will take him under their wing?
  • Who is the experienced, dependable, mistake-free Leaf rearguard who we can pair Rielly with?
  • How will he handle the physical play of the NHL at the tender age of 18?
  • Can we really tell he is "ready" (and more prepared to help the Leafs right now than more experienced players) based on a one-week training camp, maybe one exhibition game, when many Leafs haven't played a game in months, and Rielly has been playing all season?
  • I know “history” doesn’t matter, and every player and situation is unique and requires its own assessment, but haven’t we seen this bad movie in Leafland too many times before—young defensemen being brought up with immense expectations only to found wanting and ultimately traded somewhere else (Jim Benning, Al Iafrate…and, oh yes, Luke Schenn….)
  • What happened to all the young or more mature "prospects" on defense with the Marlies (Gysbers, Holzer and the older guys, Fraser, Ranger, etc.)?  They aren’t as uniquely talented as Rielly, but aren’t they higher on the depth chart?  Will they get the same "chance" to earn a spot with the big team?
  • Do we really think this is a good idea, to give a young player even an inkling he could/should be here? If he doesn’t “make” the Leaf roster, will he go back to junior disappointed and not focused?
I know, I know.  People will say, “if he plays better than the other guys at camp, he should be here…”.  That argument always leaves me shaking my head.  Of course he will be pumped up and we will all be enthralled that he can skate well and move the puck.  The coaching staff will tell us how great he was at camp.  And, as Leaf fans, we are already tired of many of our “regular” defensemen (Franson, Komisarek, Liles…) so a fresh young talent would look great in blue and white, right? 

It’s been a while since we have been this excited about a draft pick.  As a result, we can’t wait to unwrap the new present—a present earned by being so lousy yet again last season and getting yet another high pick—the third in Burke’s time here.

Burke reminds us that Carlyle took Cam Fowler in Anaheim as an 18 year old—because Fowler was “ready”, we presume.  Is this the same Cam Fowler (a highly skilled player, I acknowledge) that was minus 28 last season in his second NHL season (at the age of 20)? Do young players in Anaheim face the same kind of scrutiny that players do in this market, from day one?

People will say, “Rielly has learned all he can in junior”.  Really?  At 18, he knows everything there is to know about playing at that level?  Has he led his team to a Memorial Cup?  (In fact, has he even played 20 playoff games in junior hockey?) Is he the best defenseman on Team Canada right now, relied on to play all the key minutes?  Wouldn’t it make sense to “learn” more by having a successful playoff run in junior, leading a team somewhere at that level before he tries to do the same in the NHL?

Hey, like most Leaf fans, I’ve seen this young man play (not in person mind you, so I defer to those who have seen him a lot in live game-action, including all those Leaf scouts, of course) and always come away impressed with his obvious skills and smarts.  But I can’t help but see the flaws, as well, the things in his game that will need to be improved upon to develop and be what he can be at the next level.   Yes, he is playing at an elite level, and is better those almost everyone around him in junior hockey.  However, he’s not the first to be in that situation.  Not all of those players went on to be NHL superstars—or necessarily lived up to expectations.

Look, by all means share with me why you may think this is a good idea.  Not attending camp.  I mean that we would even consider giving him a roster spot, and using up a year of his entry-level contract in a shortened season with a very uncertain Leaf team?  You know this site—I welcome differing views, and I’m open to a thoughtful perspective on how and why this would be a smart thing for the Leafs to do.  But it will take a lot to convince me we aren’t chasing our tail again.  Why not let this young man finish off the World Juniors (which he obviously will, I realize) head back to Moose Jaw, get traded to a competitive team and then lead his new team to an important Western junior league playoff run.

Then, if it is really necessary, we can bring him to camp in the fall of 2013, and if he does show he should be at this level, OK.  I would rather he play out his junior career and not be rushed, but if it is “necessary” in the minds of the Leaf brass, fine.  I’ll accept it.

But now?  I've watched this regime "develop" Schenn and Kadri.  I'm loathe to embrace this idea.

How do you feel?


  1. "Why not let this young man finish off the World Juniors (which he obviously will, I realize) head back to Moose Jaw, get traded to a competitive team and then lead his new team to an important Western junior league playoff run."

    I think Moose Jaw has said they won't trade him. It hurts their gate too much.

    I have no problem having him come to training camp to see what is like playing against men, but I don't want to see him toiling in the early season on the Leafs.

    We need to showcase our existing defencemen, so that they can be part of a trade for the stars that we lack be that Louongo or a first line center.

    If Moose Jaw won't trade him, the ideal place for Rielly might be the Marlies. The NHL let the no 18-19 year-olds rule in the AHL expire this year, so this is actually possible. There are already a few of them out there. When Gardiner and maybe Ranger come up to the Leafs, they should send Rielly down after training camp to take a place on the Marlies. Lots of minutes, wins and a long deep playoff run in the AHL might be the perfect thing for Rielly.

  2. If, as you say, DP, Moose Jaw won't move him, I'd have no difficulty Rielly playing with the Marlies after his junior season is over. I assume he would finish out the regular-season with his junior team, and would then be eligible for AHL duty, right?

  3. No, I think he could go right away.

    Here are a couple of articles:

    I think some of this gets sorted out in the CBA, whenever it comes into force.

    There is also the CHL to consider, even if the NHL can legally do it, they might not allow it just to keep a good relationship with the CHL.

  4. Thanks for the links DP. Even if the Leafs were "allowed" to move a player to the AHL, I'd be surprised if that was done. As you alluded to, there are relationships with CHL junior teams to consider. (I still was of the view that you couldn't just call a junior player up at any time, whether to an NHL or AHL team...)

  5. Well I come from a different school of thought on this one. If the kid is good enough to play then play him. The mistake with Schenn was as soon as he screwed up Wilson benched him and destoyed his confidence. Young players are going to make mistakes, if the team is willing to deal with those mistakes and play him thru them then fine. If he is going to be on a short leash and get benched and turned in to a personal whipping boy for every one leave him in junior.

    The mistake they made with Kadri was sending him back to to junior the first time. As an 18 year old fresh off a magnificent junior year, he came to camp and was the best Leaf forward bar none. Then he got sent down and all he was told was what was wrong with his game. It was a huge mistake. I feel in my bones if Kadri had stayed up we would be talking about a potential superstar instead they have jerked him around for three years now and really stunted his development.

    I wrote once before about how I hate the saying "nobody gets ruined by playing an extra year in the minors". I have always felt how do you prove a negative if the guy gets sent down and never makes it back is it because he was a bust or was he ruined? I feel Kadri is the poster boy for this situation. At 18 he was doing things great things on the ice precisely because he didn't know that as a rookie he wasn't supposed to do those things. He should have stayed up.

    BTW my prediction for for Luke Schenn this year, a monster year away from Ron Wilson. My guess is he becomes a 40 point man and a solid two way dman who logs big minutes in Philly.

  6. Hi Michael,

    I believe your concerns are well-stated and well-founded, however, I just thought of a reason why Burke may have made this decision... he has seemed more than willing to bring up players from the Marlies in order to reward them with the bonus of their 2-way NHL pay.

    I would think, at the very least, Burke may be bringing Morgan to camp so that the signing bonus ($92,500) can 'kick in' on the entry-level slide. Rielly could receive the bonus if he's at camp... perhaps someone knows the rule about whether he actually 'has to' play during the season in order to get the bonus, but I don't think so.

    Another point is that I think the 9-game 'audition' allows the slide to stay in place and moves the contract to the next year. If my supposition is correct, then it may be that a few extra NHL dollars could accrue to Morgan if he played some (or all) of the 9-games. His 3 year entry level deal would still be available to kick in starting next season (or the year after), if I'm correct.

    Perhaps a late season look might be a good reward (when the Warriors are out of the playoff picture for sure AND might help him raise his game to play for the Marlies as DP suggested).

    There would also be the option of an emergency callup (like Kadri from the Knights for one game) if need be.

    So after writing this, I found the following that would apply to an 18 year old Morgan (who will probably get his shot in 13/14, even if we believe he'd be better off waiting another year - perhaps trades and UFA's will give him that year, but who knows!):

    In the event that an 18 year old or 19 year old Player signs an SPC with a Club but does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season under that SPC, the term of his SPC and his number of years in the Entry Level System shall be extended for a period of one (1) year, except that this automatic extension will not apply to a Player who is 19 according to Section 9.2 by virtue of turning 20 between September 16 and December 31 in the year in which he first signs an SPC. Unless a Player and Club expressly agree to the contrary, in the event a Player's SPC is extended an additional year in accordance with this subsection, all terms of the SPC, with the exception of Signing Bonuses, but including Paragraph 1 Salary, games played bonuses and Exhibit 5 bonuses, shall be extended; provided, however, that the Player's Paragraph 1 Salary shall be extended in all circumstances.

    I hope these are the primary reasons for his attendance at camp! I really hope that Carlyle doesn't just decide to keep him before he has time to get fully prepared for the NHL.

  7. Michael,

    Why am I not surprised by this at all? I wonder whether Burke will ever learn. I suppose that it is my own flaw in character to expect him to. There is no reason to have Rielly attend camp. Of course that is if you are willing to ignore the self aggrandizement of the President and General Manager. Let me see if I am getting the scope of all this. Rielly is 18, and not even the best defenseman on team Canada, let alone the standout rear guard in the tournament. If there is an NHL training camp it will be very short, and extremely intense and competitive. Lots of in game shape AHL'ers competing hard for spots in the big show. Rielly is not ready, and may even be worse off for this.

    First, he could seriously be injured by a Rosehill, or Brown doing what they are supposed to do, finish checks and earning their place on the team. Second, he would certainly be disappointed to go to camp, see the way the players in the NHL are treated and then not make it. Who wouldn't? I would and I think we all would be a little sad. I can see this hurting his play in Junior when he goes back. Could someone please explain to me why it would be a great idea to let him continue the long line of Maple Leafs learning and failing to become ready for prime time duty in the NHL? For crying out loud I didn't, and don't think that Gardiner when healthy is a finished product at the NHL level. I swear that sitting in the press box at Marlie games isn't a better option than another year of Junior hockey. Let him play next year as a junior as well. Imagine what he could learn from being captain of the World Junior team next year.

    This lack of a decision by Burke is disgusting to me. If the coach wants him that is what will happen is a crock. Nice to always have a scapegoat at the ready in case you need to explain to your bosses why that top five pick flamed out and needs to be traded. Do you think that the suits would buy the same excuses Burke peddled when Schenn left town?

  8. Thanks for the note, Willbur. I hear you, but I guess I've just seen too many kids (especially with the Leafs) rushed for no reasons to a team that was going nowhere, anyway. And in many cases, it stunted their growth.

    For me, the mistake with Kadri (and we all see things differently, that's the fun of being a fan!) is that they ever called him up in the first place. I feel they should have allowed him to flourish in junior with no sense he could "make" the Leafs at the time, then spend consistent, solid time with the Marlies. Then, once he was absolutely ready to play with the big team, he would never look back. However, the "yo-yo" approach has been awful.

    If Rielly is "good enough", he'll still be good enough in a year. He has plenty left to "prove" in junior, in my view, as I stated in my post. But again, I respect your position on this, Willbur.

  9. Thanks for the clarification, InTimeFor62. I admit I don't know these "rules" as well as I should. I just know what I see on the ice, and my instincts on this one (which may be wrong) suggest the young man should play out the year in Moose Jaw, and then if he has no playoffs in junior, he can move to the Marlies come AHL playoff time, as DP suggested above.

    At least it gives us something to talk about, instead of the bloody lockout....

  10. Your views are very much like my own on this one, Jim. I just see no reason to have him on the Leaf roster. Even if he was the "best player on the ice" at training camp (and what would that say about our team?) it just makes no sense to me.

    Burke says he's not responsible for what happened here before he arrived. Agreed.

    But after watching him in for four years plus now, he is very much responsible for what we have now. And thinking an 18-year old defenseman should be here is not something I agree with.

  11. Here's a transcript of what Burke said. It a doesn't look that likely that Rielly will play:

    “I think everyone knows that I have never kept an 18-year-old, I don’t think (assistant GM) Dave Nonis has ever kept an 18-year-old. This kid is a lock to go back to Moose Jaw, except for one thing, and that is that our coach picks the team. And he (Carlyle) kept Cam Fowler as an 18-year-old (in Anaheim).

    “He says if he wants him, he gets him. That is how things work around here.”

    Burke also said that rugged winger and 2011 draftee David Broll of the Soo Greyhounds would also be invited to camp. Each NHL club was limited by agreement with the CHL as to the number of players they could invite to NHL camps in the event the lockout ends.

    Our little 235 lb goon had another three point game on the weekend so he is up to 31 points in 38 games.

  12. You've made me aware of Broll in the past, DP. I'll continue t keep an eye on him as well.

  13. I have to whole-heartedly agree that this idea should not even be considered right now. Far too much history is already in place to tell us this is dangerous ground to walk.
    You have brought up many discussions on Burke's status with the Leafs, and whether this season might be make or break for him. Maybe he's feeling desperate. All the same, does anyone really believe an 18-year-old defenseman has the potential to make a difference this year?
    The only situation I could see putting him in this spot is if this were a team with nothing really to play for, in a market that does not have the media crush that Toronto has, where a young player can fill a spot and get at least a small taste of the NHL life, to see how he fits in and also a dose of reality in learning what parts of his game still need development. That will not happen here, we already know that. He would be thrust under the microscope and impatient people will be calling him a bust at the first sign of weakness.
    We have plenty of capable d-men with the Marlies we keep hearing about who are ready to make a real impact in the NHL. Leave Rielly in the WHL. Probably next year too, though maybe that's too far off to say for sure. I'd be happy to see him cut his NHL teeth when he's 20.

  14. I think we'd all love to see a really good young player with the Leafs, Pete- if the time was right and he was surrounded by experienced winners who could bring him along. I'm not sure that is the current environment with the Leafs right now- especially, as you cite, in this pressure-cooker market.

    I understand why some fans feel differently, but for me, it's rarely, if ever, a good idea to rush a young player.Let them play, gain confidence, be a leader, develop, etc..

    Well said. Thanks Pete.

  15. Rielly should be given a chance if he really shows that he is so good he stands out.

    My question is why you said the Leafs have one of the worst rosters in hockey, seems like everywhere you look analysts and sports commentators are all are saying the same. It is like they are all listening to each other and repeating the same thing without even looking at the roster. Because the wheels fell off last winter it must mean the Leafs roster is one of the weakest is the line of thought. But maybe it was more a case of everything going wrong, no goaltending, poor system and a young team trying to hard plus a few key injuries. The top 6, Lupul, JVR, Kessel, MacArthur, Grabo, Kulemin is pretty good, throw in Frattin, McClement and maybe Kadri and especially if Kulemin gets back to his 30 goal form the forwards are actually deep. Defense has Gardiner, Phaneuf, Gunnarson and a healthy Liles and probably Franson and the Marlies are loaded with NHL caliber d-men. Maybe Reimer will be back to form or maybe they pick up Luongo but Scrivens has looked good in the AHL. So maybe they don't have a Cup roster but they look better than the team that was in 6th place last Feb. Seriouslu at some point some of these players like Colborne, Ashton, D'Amigo will be ready as well. They could actually have one of the stronger rosters.

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  16. Thanks for posting, Anon. I respect your view but I see things very differently.

    I pay little if any attention to what other commentators have to say. I write based on what I see.

    To me, the Leaf lineup is filled with third and fourth line guys, once you get past Kessel and Lupul (who has had one good season). Grabovski is fine as a second line centre. I liked Kulemin for years but he fell off badly last year, and not just in terms of stats. The rest of the forward lines are mediocre and the youngsters unproven.

    The defense is suspect. Gunner is generally reliable, but Phaneuf is over-rated and while Gardiner is impressive, we need to see him play at crunch time in key games against tough opposition to know what kind of player he will really be for the Leafs. Beyond that, their defense, in my view, is just a bunch of guys who are replaceable, like their third and fourth line forwards.
    The Marlie defensemen may be OK, but I don't see any elite guys there just yet.

    I'm one of those who has consistently said here I'd love Reimer to be what he showed two years ago when he was a breath of fresh air.

    As I have said here before, that's the fun of being fans- we can see things differently and still pull for the Leafs!

  17. Let me know what you think of this clip from last night's 6-0 shutout of Hamilton:

    I see that quick thinking from a 21 year old kid and I think we have a future defenceman for the second pairing.

    He's strong and fast with a bit of a mean streak too

  18. You may be right, DP. I have seen Blacker, but not as much as I would like- or perhaps I have not focused on him as much as I should have by now.

    There seem to be conflicting views on him. But he's young and has some grit, which never hurts.

    The Leaf/Marlies have a lot of numbers on defense. I'm now interested in which guys emerge of the younger defensemen as solid NHL'ers. Thanks DP.