Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Rielly, Lineup Changes & Surprise Red Wings

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll comment more about Morgan Rielly’s signing and what message that sends to the team. Second, I’ll take a look at Justin Holl’s benching and at the impact that makes on the Maple Leafs’ lineup for the game against the Detroit Red Wings tonight. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Nylander, Muzzin & Mrazek

Third, I’ll comment on Mitch Marner’s slow start to the season. Finally, I’ll do something a bit different and look at the new-look Detroit Red Wings. This is not the same team this season as it was last season.

Item One: Morgan Rielly’s Signing Sends Message to Maple Leafs

As reported yesterday, Morgan Rielly signed an eight-year contract extension with the team to the tune of $7.5 million annually and $60 million in total. That signing solved one of the team’s issues for next season, and that was having Rielly enter the open market as a top-flight defenseman. The signing also, as Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted in speaking about it, sent a message to the rest of the team that Rielly believes in the group and wants to be part of it. 

Jake DeBrusk; Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly and Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk battle for the puck (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Yesterday, coach Keefe was asked what he had come to know about Rielly as a person during the time he had served as Rielly’s coach. Keefe noted what I had seen since I started covering the team by pointing out that. 

“Just incredible integrity would be the big thing. Great teammate. Great leader. He works extremely hard. He puts the team ahead of himself. I think he is just a very selfless player. The talents and the abilities he has are a huge part of what he brings. There are all those other intangibles.”

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Keefe also mentioned Rielly’s tenure with the team and the changes that had been made during that time. He pointed out that “there is a reason why the organization has gone through a number of changes over the years and he is the one guy that has lasted and has been here. He loves being a Leaf. The passion and commitment to the organization come through in how he conducts himself every day.”

I, for one, am excited Rielly re-signed.

Item Two: Justin Holl Benching Changes Tonight’s Lineup

Justin Holl’s being made a healthy scratch has an impact up and down the defensive corps on the team. After practice yesterday, Hockey News’ reporter David Alter outlined the following lineup changes. 

On defense, the top pairing consists of Rielly and Travis Dermott. T.J. Brodie will take over Holl’s place beside Jake Muzzin on the second pairing. And, the third pairing is now the two young Swedish defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.

Keefe didn’t throw Holl under the bus when he noted he was becoming a healthy scratch. Keefe reported that Holl was “not the only one, but he is not going to play tomorrow. That in itself changes the chemistry of the group. We wanted to move some things around to see how that looks tomorrow.”

Item Three: Mitch Marner Finally Gathers a Point

Against the Chicago Blackhawks, Mitch Marner registered an assist. Pretty typical news over the past few seasons, but not so frequent this season. In fact, that assist ended Marner’s six-game pointless drought. Last season, Marner didn’t go more than two games without a point. He also had not gone six games without a point since 2017-18.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Tough start for the NHL’s fourth-leading point producer for the 2020-21 season.

Related: Rielly’s Deal Means Trouble for Maple Leafs and Jack Campbell

Item Four: This Is a Different Red Wings Team

Not only are the Red Wings a winning team this season, but they are also a better team. It just isn’t smoke and mirrors. In fact, they had won two games in a row before meeting and losing to the Florida Panthers last night by a score of 3-2. However, it went to overtime, so the Red Wings did collect a point.

During that recent winning streak, the Red Wings also handled the Washington Capitals – also in overtime by the same 3-2 score – on Wednesday. To do that, they came back from being two goals down – similar to the Maple Leafs against the Blackhawks. This Red Wings’ team is hanging in there with some of the top teams and is pulling out wins. It wouldn’t have happened over the last two seasons.

As Red Wings’ coach Jeff Blashill reported, “We’ve been in situations where we found our way to wins, and that breeds confidence.” 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tonight’s game against the Red Wings will not be easy. Detroit comes into Toronto as a confident team and one of the surprises in the Eastern Conference. They’ve played the same number of games (eight) as the Maple Leafs but are three points ahead in the standings with a 4-2-2 record. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Bad Starts, Hutchinson & Keefe’s Anger?

How the changes to the Maple Leafs’ defense will work will be seen later tonight.