Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Rielly, Hollowell, Benn & Mete

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the player movements as the team readies itself to play the scalding-hot New Jersey Devils. The Devils are engaged in an extended NHL winning streak, now up to 13 straight games. They’ll be seeking their 14th straight win against a suddenly under-manned Maple Leafs’ team.

Two nights ago, the Devils’ last victim was the Edmonton Oilers. They won by a score of 5-2. It’s been almost a month since the Devils lost a game. With their new lineup, especially in the defensive pairings, it’s hard to think the Maple Leafs will have much of a chance of winning.

Related: Vladislav Tretiak: Goaltending Guru

But the NHL is a strange league. It’s possible that Maple Leafs’ goalie tonight Matt Murray can rise up and stone an opponent. He’s been playing really well over his last three games. It’s possible that the Core Four can rise up offensively. It’s even possible that the team can put together a total defensive effort and carry the game.

Item One: Morgan Rielly’s Receives Bad Injury News

After medical tests yesterday morning, Morgan Rielly got some bad news. Imagining showed that the knee injury he had suffered in Monday’s New York Islanders’ game was more major than hoped. As a result, he was placed on LTIR ( long-term injured reserve)

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

Given that status, Rielly must remain sidelined for at least 10 games and 24 days after being placed on LTIR. With the two other top defensemen already missing with injuries, Rielly’s status presents quite a significant problem for the Maple Leafs’ defence. But, as head coach Sheldon Keefe notes, it’s the next man up.

Currently, the team is playing without Jake Muzzin (who has a neck injury) and T.J. Brodie (who injured his oblique). Rielly will be missed offensively. He hasn’t scored a goal on the season, but he’s collected 16 assists in his 20 games played this season. 

Related: Maple Leafs in a Tough Spot with Defenseman Morgan Rielly

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Rielly also eats up minutes, and he’s averaged 23:00 of TOI. Somehow, his time will be divided between the other three pairings. Those pairings right now are:

First Pairing: Mark Giordano – Justin Holl 

Second Pairing: Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren 

Third Pairing: Jordie Benn – Mac Hollowell 

Extra Defenseman: Victor Mete 

Item Two: Mac Hollowell Recalled by Maple Leafs and Plays Tonight

In much better news for a young soon-to-be NHL player, Mac Hollowell has been recalled by the Maple Leafs to help replace Morgan Rielly, who suffered a knee injury and was placed on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) yesterday. The latest report is that Hollowell will play tonight and will be the third-pairing partner of veteran defenseman Jordie Benn.

Related: 5 Maple Leafs’ Defensemen Next in Line for NHL Playing Time

Unless Hollowell completely fails at his first NHL shot, he’s likely to be around for quite a while. Rielly’s LTIR placement calls for him to be out for 10 games or 24 games. In an interview yesterday, Hollowell shared that this was a moment he’d been waiting for since he was a little kid.

Item Three: Victor Mete Also Called up by Maple Leafs

Along with Hollowell, Victor Mete was also assigned to the Maple Leafs. If the practice lines and pairings from yesterday are to be trusted, Mete will be the extra defenseman on the team’s NHL roster. 

Thus far this season, Mete has played both at the NHL and the AHL levels this season. With the Maple Leafs, he’s registered an assist and carries a plus-3 rating. Mete will likely get a chance to play over the next several games; or, he’ll play until TJ Brodie returns from his oblique injury. 

Item Four: Wayne Simmonds Hits the Waiver Wire Again

NHL veteran Wayne Simmonds was placed on waivers yesterday. He hasn’t been in the Maple Leafs’ lineup since early in November, and he’s played only four games with the team during the 2022-23 season. 

Related: Why Giving Back Means So Much To Wayne Simmonds [Video]

That said, he made a difference in the game. Simmonds registered a great assist on a behind-the-back pass to David Kampf to give his team the lead in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He just didn’t do it enough times. 

At this point, it’s unclear when Maple Leafs’ fans might see Simmonds again – if ever.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tonight’s game will be really interesting. If the Maple Leafs can pull off a victory; and, if the defensive pairings can work successfully, the team could hold it together until the injured defensemen return to the team.

TJ Brodie Toronto Maple Leafs
TJ Brodie of the Toronto Maple Leafs will be out a few more games.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That might be quite a task. It could turn ugly; or, it could really become a tipping point for the season. The team has the all-round team defense to pull this off, but it’s everyone working together to protect their goalie – tonight, Matt Murray.

We’ll know much more in a few days. After tonight’s game, the team has a back-to-back on Friday in Minnesota against the Wild and then on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

It’s a test, for sure.