Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Strange Fines, Rielly & Giordano

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I will report that two fines were assessed to the team for travelling on their Christmas break rather than waiting to fly out a few hours later.

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Also, I will share the news that Morgan Rielly might return tonight against the Arizona Coyotes. The team has been successful without him, but the team’s power-play success might have suffered. I’ll also discuss Mark Giordano’s value to the team in Rielly’s absence.

Item 1: Maple Leafs Assessed 2 Crazy Fines Yesterday

Fine 1: Leaving for St. Louis at a (Sort of) Reasonable Hour

Yesterday, NHL Public Relations announced that the Maple Leafs were fined $100,000 for violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) because they boarded their plane 90 minutes too early. The team reportedly left Toronto at 10:30 PM on the evening of Dec. 26 to fly to St. Louis rather than waiting until after midnight so the team could leave on Dec. 27. The game was played on the evening of Dec. 27.

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The fine was for violating CBA Article 16.5(b), which states, “December 24, Christmas Day, and December 26 shall be off days for all purposes, including travel.” 

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The CBA mandates that no travel should occur during Christmas break, which includes Dec. 26. The Maple Leafs should have waited until Dec. 27 to travel. However, Toronto argued that, because St. Louis is just under a two-hour flight, it would be better to go before midnight to get to the team hotel around 2 AM (which is what players are accustomed to) rather than leave after midnight and get to the hotel around 5 AM. 

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Friedman reported that he asked a couple of sources if the players agreed, and the preliminary replies were all yes. But, as Friedman noted, the NHL rule is clear.

Fine 2: Sheldon Keefe Gets on Referees’ Case

The NHL also fined head coach Sheldon Keefe $25,000 for “demeaning conduct” directed at officials in their 5-4 win over the Blues that night. 

Keefe exploded after he saw a video replay of a Blues high-stick that cut Zach Aston-Reese. Because the officials had missed the play, no penalty was assessed. Replays of the incident suggest that Keefe had a reason to be upset. First, Aston-Reese was whacked hard in the face and needed stitches. Second, all four officials missed the play, which probably should have resulted in a double-minor penalty.

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After the game, Keefe told reporters, “Watching Zach Aston-Reese getting sewn up on the table after the game is a little hard to take. But we’re happy with the two points.”

Item 2: Morgan Rielly Will Finally Play

Morgan Rielly’s knee injury is healed and rehabbed. As a result, he’s scheduled to return to game action on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. At least that’s the hope. Keefe reported that as long as “everything checks out,” he expects Rielly to return to action tonight.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although Rielly is still officially on long-term injured reserve, he’s travelling with the team and should be activated before tonight’s game. I’m guessing that, if Rielly does play, he’ll be back on the first pairing, and Mark Giordano will shift down. 

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However, Rielly might also be partnered lower down the lineup to adjust. The Daily Faceoff reported that the defensive pairings for tonight (if Rielly were to play) would be as follows: 

PairingLeft-Side DefensemanRight-Side Defenseman
First-PairingMark GiordanoJustin Holl
Second-PairingMorgan RiellyTimothy Liljegren
Third-PairingTJ BrodieConor Timmins

Item 3: Time to Appreciate Mark Giordano

With Rielly set to return, it’s time to take a moment to appreciate Giordano’s play and leadership in his absence. The many injuries might have resulted in a downward spiral. Yet, that the defence held together and even thrived is a crucial reason the team is doing so well this season.

Mark Giordano Toronto Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

To my mind, Giordano is key to that success. He plays well, eats minutes, and makes his partners better. The Maple Leafs are fortunate he signed with them in the offseason. If he isn’t the best bargain contract in the NHL, he has to be close.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs are now tied for third in the NHL in points with 50, and their success can be measured by their statistical rankings this season. Even with a couple of high-scoring games, Ilya Samsonov has played well – the team ranks second in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.44. 

However, the Maple Leafs don’t rank nearly as high in goals-for-average; they are ninth, averaging 3.29 goals per game. Despite their reputation as a high-octane offensive team, they are evolving into a defensive-based team and have been for a couple of seasons.

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One statistical surprise is the team’s lack of prowess on the power play, ranked 13th in the NHL. Two thoughts. First, perhaps the team misses Rielly quarter-backing the power play. Second, the team knows and is concerned about the issue. They are engaging in creative deployments to improve their play with the man advantage. The first power-play unit now consists of Michael Bunting, John Tavares, and William Nylander upfront; the points are manned by Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.