Quick Shifts: Leafs should let Rielly go overseas

With John-Michael Liles rejoining the Maple Leafs, should Morgan Rielly be headed to the world junior championships? Yes.
December 9, 2013, 8:30 AM

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and lighthearted, and rolling four lines deep.

1. The Maple Leafs’ recalling of John Michael-Liles is win-win. Despite Liles’ flaws, he’s too experienced and skilled to be riding the bus and plying his trade in the American Hockey League. His rejoining the big club’s roster hasn’t made the Leafs any worse defensively.

More compelling, however, is what this means for 19-year-old Morgan Rielly, who’s been a healthy scratch since the Liles recall. What a Boxing Day gift it will be to hockey fans to see this kid skate among players his age for Team Canada at the world juniors. Rielly’s speed and creativity should gleam on the big ice, and the confidence he gains in Sweden can be chartered back to Toronto in a couple weeks.

Send him, Mr. Nonis.

2. With Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers committing to each other past the King’s 39th birthday, who is the most important UFA-to-be still on the board whose future is unknown?

The Sedin twins and Phil Kessel already committed to their current clubs long-term. The way Dion Phaneuf is playing, and the way the rest of the Maple Leafs’ D is playing, we can’t see Dave Nonis not re-signing Toronto’s captain. It’s been reported that the San Jose Sharks’ veteran trio of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle all want to re-up and management’s feeling is mutual. Teams and players are committing to each other long-term before testing the open market.

We know players will be shuffling out of Buffalo, but the most interesting team to watch on July 1 is shaping up to be St. Louis. If Alex Steen, 29, doesn’t experience a dramatic drop-off, he could be a very rich man. With 20 goals in the bank, he’s not eager to re-sign yet, and he’s the only UFA-to-be under the age of 30 who has scored more than 10 this season. (The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mason Raymond, 28, has 10.)

3. It was supposed to be one of the best games of the week. Instead, the Pittsburgh Penguins — with an on-fire Evgeni Malkin sidelined — ran over the San Jose Sharks 5-1 Thursday.

So what if Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 44 of the 45 San Jose threw at him? Fellow Team Canada bubble guy Logan Couture called Fleury out.

“Stats aside, I don’t think Fleury was that good tonight,” Couture told CSN Bay Area. “He gave up a lot of rebounds and a lot of shots he looked shaky on. We weren’t able to score on second chances.”

Joe Pavelski jumped in, too: “He was fighting it all night. It felt like we could have had five. Pucks were bouncing and laying between his legs.”

The irony? Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi was the one chased from the game.

Too bad these teams only play each other twice this year. The Pens don’t visit the Tank until March 6.

4. That same contest marked Sidney Crosby’s 500th NHL game played. Crosby’s average of 1.41 points per game through the first 500 with the franchise is only bested by landlord Mario Lemieux’s silly 1.94. (Jaromir Jagr was at 1.26.)

Crosby, who had three points against the Sharks, always puts up multiple points in his century-milestone matches; the Kid had two points each in games 100, 200, 300 and 400.

Most Points in First 500 Games, NHL History
1. Wayne Gretzky: 1,186
2. Mario Lemieux: 971
3. Peter Stastny: 759
4. Mike Bossy: 757
5. Jari Kurri: 730
6. Sidney Crosby: 706

5. Just because the Dallas Stars are the worst team in the NHL’s Central Divivion doesn’t mean they aren’t very good. During the Stars’ thrilling victory of the division-leading Blackhawks last week, undrafted Frenchman Antoine Roussel was a tour de force (that’s French for a very involved player). He fought, he checked, and he beat Corey Crawford on a beautiful third-period penalty shot. What drama.

Roussel’s intensity boiled over, however, when he taunted the Madhouse crowd after his goal. Boos descended upon him from the home crowd. Remember, this is a fan base that dumped beer on Jets defenceman Adam Pardy and stole his helmet — and that was a game the ‘Hawks were winning.

Roussel’s rudeness will not be forgotten in Chicago’s dressing room:

6. While much of the non-P.K. hype in Montreal surrounds Carey Price’s Team Canada aspirations and his fabulous play, which has helped the Habs join Pittsburgh and Boston in the East’s penthouse, let us give props to his backup.

Albeit in a smaller sample size, Peter Budaj (5-1-1) actually has a better record than Price, a better goals-against average (1.80) and a better save percentage (.934). At $1.4 million, the 31-year-old has been a bargain. Smart re-signing by GM Marc Bergevin back in April.

7. Great stuff in the Calgary Herald as Al MacInnis describes what Jarome Iginla will go through in his return to the Saddledome Tuesday.

“As much as you try and tell yourself, ‘It’s just another game. It’ll be OK’… for me that wasn’t the case. You can almost convince yourself you actually do feel that way until you walk into the Saddledome for the first time and then — wham! — it just sorta hits you,” the Flames legend said of his first time playing in Calgary as a St. Louis Blue. “Honestly, it was almost a numbing feeling for me. Almost a blur. You have to consciously tell yourself: ‘Hey, I’ve gotta go to the visitors’ room.’ I found it tough.”

8. The Sunbelt teams are first to acknowledge the winter holidays. First watch the Phoenix Coyotes’ digital Christmas card to their fans (below), in which they shoot their way through “Jingle Bells.” Then pour a mug of nog and watch the Nashville Predators’ — one of the most bizarrely festive things you’ll see.

9. Shawn Thornton’s attack of Brooks Orpik clouded over the initial incident that sparked Thornton’s regrettable cheap shot: Orpik (cleanly, in this writer’s opinion) dealt Bruins forward Loui Eriksson his second concussion of the young season.

What contrast we’re seeing in the early stages of the summer’s biggest hockey trade. On the same night young Tyler Seguin goes out and scores a natural hat trick (in his third four-point game) for Dallas, bringing his goal total to 15 and his point total to 27, poor Eriksson (five goals, 14 points) is sent to the doctor again. Of course, there’s no reason to believe Eriksson can’t rebound strong from a shot to the head (see: Crosby, Toews, Sedin), but Dallas is getting the better end of the blockbuster deal so far.

10. It’s not enough that the Minnesota Wild already have the second-ugliest logo in the league. Some Parrothead had to go and splash it on a Hawaiian-print sweater specially made for Jimmy Buffet. The Sabres’ new third jersey looks downright gorgeous next to this:

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