Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Rielly, Marner, Hirvonen & Niemela

Like all other NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off now until after Christmas. However, with recent additions to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, it’s likely that the team will be off for some time longer. Although that’s not a great Christmas present for Maple Leafs’ fans, it really is a bigger bummer for the families of those within the organization who have contracted the virus. I wish them well this Christmas.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the likely impact of the COVID-19 virus on the team’s near future. I’ll also take a look at two bright young Finish prospects in the Maple Leafs’ organization – Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela – who were today named captains for Team Finland in the upcoming World Junior Championships.  

Item One: Morgan Rielly Was 12th Member of the Maple Leafs Placed Under NHL’s Protocol

Today it was announced that Morgan Rielly was designated for NHL protocols, which really is an odd way to say he has tested positive for the virus. He was placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols earlier today.

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

COVID-19 has really hit the Maple Leafs hard. Rielly became the 12th member of the team (including staff) to be placed in the NHL’s protocols. Given those numbers and the impact they have on the Maple Leafs’ ability to cobble together a team of roster players, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Maple Leafs’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets this coming Monday will be postponed.

My guess is that, with so many players now on the COVID-19 protocols and the list continuing to grow, the NHL will consider postponing more games following the Christmas pause. 

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Currently, counting Rielly, the Maple Leafs have placed David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek, Rasmus Sandin, John Tavares, Alexander Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Brodie, Travis Dermott, and Jack Campbell. That protocol list also includes head coach Sheldon Keefe, Spencer Carbery, and just today goaltending coach Steve Briere.

Item Two: Mitch Marner Can Return from LTIR

When Mitch Marner was injured in a freak practice accident and put on LTIR, it looked as if the Maple Leafs would be without his services for a long while. However, that too has changed with COVID-19. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was reported yesterday that the four games that were originally scheduled but had to be postponed because of COVID-19 issues do count towards Marner’s 10-game LTIR requirement. As a result, Marner can be activated as soon as he’s ready. Although he’s actually only sat out six games, he’s fulfilled the requirements for his LTIR. 

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Marner hasn’t played since December 1, and has scored six goals and 15 assists (for 21 points) in his 24 games this season. You have to know he’s going to put on a push when he returns to get back to the point-a-game status that he’s played at for several seasons.

Item Three: Roni Hirvonen & Topi Niemela Named Captains of Team Finland for World Juniors

It was reported today that two Maple Leafs prospects – Roni Hirvonen (main captain) and Topi Niemela (alternate captain) – were named captains for Finland’s 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship team. The 19-year-old Hirvonen is a forward who was chosen during the second round (59th overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old Niemela is a defenseman who was chosen by Toronto during round three (64th overall) of that same 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Hirvonen has scored six goals and added 10 assists (for 16 points in 28 games) with HIFK Helsinki of Finland’s Liiga this season. Niemela has scored six goals and added 18 assists (for 24 points) in 31 games with Karpat also in Finland’s Liiga. Florida Panthers’ draft choice Kasper Puutio was named Team Finland’s other alternate captain. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs carry a season’s record of 20-8-2 into the Christmas break. They haven’t played a game in more than a week and have had four games postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreaks across the NHL. Obviously, Toronto isn’t the only team facing issues.

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In fact, two days ago Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported that 131 players were reported in the active protocol. That’s 18 percent of rosters. That was before today’s additions. In total, 50 NHL games have been postponed. There are likely to be more.

Stay tuned here and I’ll try to help Maple Leafs’ fans stay up-to-date on the news about the team.

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