Published on February 23, 2013
Morgan Rielly from the Moose Jaw Warriors drives to the net after beating Regina Pats forward Lane Scheidl at the point.
Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Published on June 23, 2012
Morgan Rielly pulls on his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey at Friday’s NHL draft.
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Defenceman not resting on laurels after breaking camp with Leafs
Morgan Rielly knew he was getting on a plane Monday.
He just didn’t know whether he would be flying east or west.
It is understandable that he was happy to be hopping on a chartered plane to Montreal.
Rielly will be at the Bell Centre tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs open the National Hockey League season against the Montreal Canadiens (5 p.m., CBC), but whether he is on the ice or in the press box remains to be seen.
“It would obviously be pretty cool if I got to play, but I’m not sure what the plan is yet, so I just have to wait and see,” said Rielly from his hotel room in Montreal. “To get a chance to play in the season opener would be a dream come true, but I’m going to keep a positive attitude. If I do get a chance play I’ll be ready.”
Rielly officially cracked the Leafs’ opening day roster, but whether he is up for a nine-game audition or the rest of the NHL season remains to be seen. The first year of Rielly’s NHL contract won’t kick in until he plays his 10th regular season game with the Leafs and the 19-year-old defenceman knows he could return to the Moose Jaw Warriors any time before that.
“I haven’t proven anything yet. I realize that I can be sent back to junior at any point, so I’m going to try to keep working hard. I have to keep proving myself. If I get a chance to play I will have to play well,” said Rielly who acknowledged it was a special moment to get word that he was staying in Toronto.
“That was pretty exciting. It was a long, hard camp, but to get that good news at the end of it was a pretty good feeling,” said Rielly. “I have a lot left to do still and hopefully I can keep playing well.”
Rielly’s immediate future in Toronto is part of a complicated juggling act by the Leafs front office as they try to manage the lower US$64.3M salary cap this season.
Signing defenceman Cody Franson Thursday temporarily put the Leafs over the salary cap. They are currently just under the cap after trading Joe Colborne to Calgary Saturday and waiving defencemen John-Michael Liles and Korbinian Holzer. The defencemen both cleared waivers Monday and will join the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
“Dates always bring decisions,” Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle told the Canadian Press Monday. “Obviously we feel strongly that Morgan is a young kid that has shown a lot of potential and has played well in training camp. There’s a lot of positives taking place with a young player. We just have to measure if it’s going to be productive both for him and for our hockey club for him to play in the NHL this year. It’s a difficult decision.”
It’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made right away. Rielly doesn’t have to dress every night which could extend his nine-game ceiling by a few weeks. Because of his age Rielly has to either play in the NHL or the WHL this season.
“We have a few ideas as far as what our plan is, and obviously with the nine-game scenario that we have, we have some flexibility,” Carlyle said. “But the first thing that we’re going to consider is, is the player going to help our hockey club and are we helping him by doing what we’re doing?”
Rielly, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, had a goal and two assists in 14 regular season games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies last season after the Warriors year concluded. He also played in eight AHL playoff games, scoring once.
The Leafs gave Rielly a long look in the pre-season as he was a regular fixture during their eight pre-season games. He said he felt more comfortable on and off the ice each time out.
“I am pretty happy with how it went. I felt that if I got the opportunity to play I couldn’t waste it,” Rielly said. “With each day that went by I got more comfortable and each game that I played I felt more that I was at that pro level. I don’t think I was at that point when I got here a few weeks ago for the start of camp, but after I played some pre-season games I felt way better. By the end of it I was pretty comfortable and I felt like I belonged.”
Rielly led all players in ice time Saturday night in Detroit with 23:42 and added an assist in the Leafs 3-1 win.
“That was really nice. Whenever you get a chance to get some quality ice time, it helps your confidence,” said Rielly.
Seeing two defenceman from last year’s team get sent down to the AHL is a further vote of confidence in Rielly’s readiness to play in the NHL.
By sending Liles down, the Leafs save $925,000 of his $3,875,000 salary from counting towards the cap. Holzer was the Leafs’ seventh defenceman for most of last season and played 22 games.
The Leafs cap situation isn’t helped by David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension and former Warrior Frazer McLaren’s broken pinky which has him likely headed to the long-term injured reserve for at least 24 days. The Leafs recalled Troy Bodie Monday to give them 12 forwards for opening night which means one of the Leafs’ seven defencemen will have to be scratched.
Given that most of Liles’ salary counts against the cap even with him in the minors, the Leafs would have the cap space to call him back up if they decided to return Rielly to Moose Jaw.