It triggered the perfect storm of hockey debate, an El Nino of sports talk radio fodder.
Retaliation versus instigation. Sportsmanship versus honour. In-person versus phone. Old-school justice versus new-school swag. Ottawa versus Toronto. Intent versus result. Clean player versus dirty play. Maple Leafs favouritism versus Maple Leafs example-making. Rielly-less Leafs versus the playoff race. I-before-E versus E-before-I. …
The emphatic disputes — traced along lines geographical and sartorial and impacted by your age and appetite for vengeance — sparked on an entertaining Saturday night by Greig’s punctuation mark on a 5-3 Senators home win over a bitter rival will rage until and beyond Rielly’s in-person hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety wraps Tuesday.
“I mean, guy takes a clapper into our net. You’re gonna go play pattycake with him? There’s got to be a message sent. I don’t think a push is a message, to be honest with you. So, I thought it was appropriate,” Ryan Reaves, 37, said Monday of the hottest topic in hockey.
“If you rewind to when I came into the league, he’s probably still laying on the ice.”
Should Greig, 21, not know better than to unleash a 73 m.p.h. slapshot into unprotected twine? Or, at the very least, be prepared to accept the consequences of such an action?
“You would hope,” Reaves went on. “But these young kids these days are playing a different brand of hockey than I’m used to. The code’s changed a little bit. The game’s changed a lot. And it’s unfortunate that a young kid like that can get away with something like that, and then one of our best players is gonna get suspended for it. Make hockey violent again — get that tattooed on me.”
Go ahead and flip the bat … but don’t get shocked if you get drilled by the next pitch.
Mark Giordano — the league’s oldest player and one of its most thoughtful and honourable — chose his words carefully when addressing the topic, cognizant that the framing may impact the ruling.
“A slap shot on an empty net? No, I’ve never seen that one. I mean, I’ve seen guys put the puck into an empty net after a whistle, which is sometimes accidental, sometimes on purpose. But I’ve never seen that one,” said Giordano, 40, noting a cultural shift.
“Honestly, I don’t want to say something I’m gonna regret. I don’t want to comment on it. I think it’s a different mentality for sure now.”
The mentality in both Ontario markets is to keep the principles silent until the disciplinary process plays out. Greig declined interview requests in Ottawa; Rielly was requested but not made available to reporters post-game Saturday or on Monday.
Behind the scenes, the Leafs are incensed that Rielly’s cross-check has risen to in-person scrutiny, and this flex by the Senators on social media wasn’t exactly received with a laugh:
What all should be able to agree on here is that it’s great to have some real animosity injected back into the Battle of Ontario and that it’s a shame we’ve already seen the teams’ final meeting this season.
“Hopefully one day,” Reaves said, “I can take a clapper into their net. And then we’ll see the repercussions of that, right?”
In Toronto, Rielly’s squeaky-clean track record could help his sentence; until his most recent shift, the defenceman had been a legitimate Lady Byng candidate.
“He stepped up for our team in that situation,” William Nylander defended. “What does he have, like, three penalties this year?”
It’s also notable that Greig was a full participant in Sens practice Monday. Sans injury, Reaves argues Rielly should only face a fine or a single game.
“The kid got up,” Reaves said. “Completely fine. I think that needs to be taken into account, too.”
Added Auston Matthews: “It definitely deserved a reaction. Obviously, Morgan’s not a malicious player and somebody that’s dirty, by any means. So, him approaching [Greig] was something that was just bound to happen. Somebody who was going to do it, especially after a play like that.
“I just don’t think it’s really necessary to go down there and hardest-shot competition into the net.”
Sheldon Keefe said he reviewed suspension-resulting cross-checks over recent years and was surprised to see Rielly’s elevating to the severity of an in-person hearing, which can result in a ban longer than five games.
“But at the same time, there’s a history also of events that happened in Toronto and with the Leafs that get more attention, more hype, that tend to lead to something such as this. So, to that end, not surprised,” said Keefe, who also objected to Jason Spezza’s six-gamer in 2021.
“We’ve been through a number of others in the past. It seems like we’ve had to prepare for it more so than anybody else in the league, perhaps.”
From player safety’s perspective, the six-game cross-checking suspension of the previously clean David Perron could be pointed to as high-end extreme. (Perron appealed the ruling, to no avail.)
The Maple Leafs, remember, appealed Spezza’s ruling and had it reduced to four games.
But the appeal process drags. And while a reduced financial punishment is nice, the longer the mid-pack Maple Leafs must press on without their most important defenceman, the greater impact it could have on their place in the standings.
Already scouring the trade market for blue-line help, the Leafs get frighteningly thinner this week in Reilly’s absence.
Arguably the club’s most valuable player this season, the first-time all-star leads the club in ice time (24:21), ranks second in assists (36), runs the power play, chips in on the penalty kill, and assumes the toughest matchups.
“Those are big minutes. He plays in every situation. I keep saying that he’s been really underrated this year across the league. Offensively, we all know what he does, but I think in all areas of the game, he’s been really good this year,” Giordano said.
William Lagesson, whom Matthews says has been “itching to get in,” will pick up more minutes on the third pair, while the inconsistent Timothy Liljegren bumps T.J. Brodie to the left side and subs in for Rielly in the top six.
The increased responsibility is a golden opportunity for the pending RFA to gain some confidence and traction in a season that hasn’t gone his way, and the Leafs are hoping the frustration with losing Rielly can be flipped into a disguised blessing.
“Any time all of a sudden you’re needed that much more, you think that much less and just go out and play,” Keefe said of Liljegren.
Added Giordano: “We all do it. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves in different situations and sometimes think that things are worse than they really are. But that’s a good trait to have. You’re always looking to get better.”
Surely, no matter how Tuesday’s decision shakes out, the frothing fan bases will be screaming for player safety to get better, too.
One-Timers: Matthews on his “very eye-opening” experience with player safety: “I felt like my bed was already made when I hopped on that phone. Everybody’s situation is going to be a bit different. I guess we’ll see what happens.” … Both Joseph Woll (high-ankle sprain) and David Kämpf (undisclosed) returned Monday as full participants in practice for the first time since hitting IR. … Kämpf and Giordano are both hopeful to play Tuesday. … Jake McCabe is quarterbacking the top power-play unit in Rielly’s absence. … Conor Timmins remains absent from practice with an illness. … Bobby McMann appears to be a scratch.
Maple Leafs projected lines vs. St. Louis Blues Tuesday
Knies – Matthews – Marner
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Nylander
Gregor – Domi – Robertson
Hölmberg – Kämpf – Reaves
Brodie – Liljegren
Benoit – McCabe
Giordano – Lagesson