1. Midway through the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2019-20 campaign, Morgan Rielly approached Sheldon Keefe with a suggestion he hoped would benefit the team, even though it surely wouldn’t do himself much good.
The No. 1 defenceman offered up his position on the club’s lethal top power-play unit to teammate Tyson Barrie, an offensive-minded playmaker who hadn’t been playing to his strengths.
Well, glancing around at the paucity of right defencemen on Toronto’s injury-bit blueline, Rielly is once again willing to take one for the team.
A natural left shot who thrives best when paired with a stay-at-home RD, Rielly has been taking reps on the right side during Leafs camp.
“Honestly, I haven’t even noticed. Just looks like Mo out there,” Auston Matthews says. “The backbone of our D corps.”
“He’s a hell of a player,” Mitch Marner adds. “He can play both sides.”
Rielly, 28, is entering the first season of an eight-year extension — signed early and without much fuss — that could well ride him to a slew of franchise records for defencemen.
He has security and respect. He has charm and wheels. He also has zero playoff series wins and an eagerness to change that narrative.
So, he’s willing to step out of his comfort zone and give a coaching staff overloaded with lefties some options.
“Mo’s been wanting to take more and more reps there," Keefe revealed. "He sees the situation and knows the more flexibility we have, the better. He sort of volunteered to take those reps, which I think is great because, I mean, we played a game (Wednesday) night with six left-handed shots (on defence)."
Rielly has seldom patrolled his off side, and Mike Babcock’s Jake Muzzin–Rielly pairing in the pre-Keefe era was as awkward as it was short-lived.
T.J. Brodie, a lefty who regularly plays the right, says: “I don’t think it’s as big a deal as it’s made out to be.”
Yet Rielly, Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin all look more comfortable on their familiar side. Ice views change, and you’re forced to handle more pucks on your backhand.
“You just try and get used to it," Rielly says. "Over time, you become more comfortable, and you just work at it. It's actually nice in the offensive zone. You get to walk to the middle on your forehand. Like, there are perks to it. It's just a matter of getting familiar with it."
Despite Rielly raising his hand (Mark Giordano is also flexible, but he doesn’t log as many minutes), Keefe isn’t convinced moving his strongest defenceman out of a position of strength is the best solution to his RD shortage.
"We'll have to see where everybody's at," says Keefe, tapping the brakes. "I wouldn't say we have a leading candidate necessarily. I haven't lost sight of the fact that Rielly and Brodie work very well for us (as a pair).
“I’m fully expecting him to be on the left side.”
2. There’s a counterpoint to the Mitch Marner defence experiment, which I do believe to be a compelling risk that could pay off, especially with the stakes so low in preseason.
With Keefe considering deploying a forward at the point, does it not underscore the fact the Maple Leafs failed to address a significant need this off-season?
With Timothy Liljegren injured, the organization is down to Justin Holl as its only natural righty with big-league experience — and that includes the depth options on the farm.
The Cats are already one of just three teams — L.A. and Tampa are the others – shelling out eight digits to two netminders, and that’s before Knight’s raise kicks in. (L.A. will soon get relief with Jonathan Quick in the final year of his deal.)
On the surface, allotting such a large percentage of your dollars to one position — a critical yet unpredictable one — feels like a gamble.
There may be an out, however.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida’s $10-million man, frontloaded his contract and will see his actual salary drop to $6.5 million in 2024-25 and $6 million in 2025-26. Those are also the years when his full no-move clause switches to a modified no-trade.
4. John Tortorella has arrived in Philadelphia with guns blazing. The coach is on a mission to shake up the culture, and youth movement is afoot.
GM Chuck Fletcher says depending on how camp shakes out, the Flyers may keep 10 players aged 25 or younger.
“I’m going to play the kids, I’ll tell you right now,” Tortorella proclaimed.
He doesn’t have much choice. Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis aren’t available for a while.
And the list of familiar names unfit for contact — Cam Atkinson, Carter Hart, Joel Farabee, Artem Anisimov — is concerning.
I enjoyed this mini documentary from Flyers camp, and the no-nonsense Tortorella’s introductory speech ahead of what certainly feels like a rebuilding year:
“I’m going to be straight up with you every day, and I expect the same type of respect to me. And it may not be good stuff. But you be f------ honest with me. Understand that. Let’s be honest with one another.”
5. Count me among the masses who refuse to read much into exhibition action.
That won’t stop us from enjoying a little hockey for hockey’s sake.
Watch Calder favourite Matty Beniers snipe this short-side laser over the shoulder of Oilers goalie Olivier Rodrigue.
Not sure which is more impressive: the pinpoint aim or how smoothly he reaches back in stride to take a pass (probably intended for trailer Oliver Bjorkstrand) on his backhand and scoop it to shooting position.
“I think it’s the same,” Beniers shrugged when asked by a reporter of his shot selection. “I don’t think that’s changing too much.”
6. The serious spike in the salary cap is projected for the 2024-25 season, according to this Elliotte Friedman report.
This is welcome news for the UFA Class of ’24. Auston Matthews is the valedictorian of that group. Other well-timed contract expiries belong to Jake Guentzel, William Nylander, Connor Hellebuyck, Sebastian Aho, Sam Reinhart, Mark Scheifele, Elias Lindholm, Devon Toews, Steven Stamkos, Ilya Sorokin, and Noah Hanifin.
These guys should get paid.
7. History was made before my time, but I loved seeing members of Team Canada gather and reminisce about their experience in 1972 on the 50th anniversary of the Summit Series Wednesday in Toronto.
Eight-time Stanley Cup champion Serge Savard compared the aftermath of an NHL championship to the feeling after winning in Russia.
“We all got in the room, sat down, and everybody was quiet. Everybody was quiet before anybody walked in the room. Two, three, four minutes,” Savard says.
“You know, when you win the Cup, the champagne is there, the Cup is there, and everybody's yelling and singing and drinking. That was not the case in ’72. It was like… mission accomplished.”
So, what were you thinking during those four silent minutes?
“Nothing,” he replies.
“I was so happy inside. Everybody was happy inside. But nobody was expressing themselves.”
8. Much was made at that time about how the faceless Russians were the enemy, an evil that must be conquered.
Thing is, when Team Canada was first assembled, there were plenty of internal grudges that needed to be overcome first.
“I hated Phil Esposito before I played with him, and those big, bad Bruins. He was cocky. Bobby Clarke? Hated his guts,” Savard says.
“And then we sat beside each other for six weeks, we became friends, and we started to say hello in the warmup, and it was different. It changed the whole thing.”
Today, it’s not uncommon to see members of rival NHL teams chumming it up after games between the dressing rooms, dining at all-star games, or laughing at media and charity events. There’s a camaraderie that extends beyond the crest on their sweater.
Savard explains that’s because modern players have already mixed in junior or on teenage national teams. That didn’t happen in the ’70s. You wouldn’t dare speak to an opponent.
“If we walk into a restaurant and then somebody else from another team walked in, we walked out,” Savard says.
This also explains the shift in the all-star game, which morphed from a competitive event in which the best players were trying to humble the Cup champs to a happy-go-lucky high-five festival.
“We weren’t really friends with the other guys. The Rangers? We hated the Rangers. We hated the Bruins. We hated the Blackhawks. We hated everybody else. And that's the reason it took us a little while to become a team,” says Peter Mahovlich. “Who the heck wants to be friends with Bobby Clarke?”
Teams bond. Championship teams even tighter. Legendary teams…
“I saw Bobby two months ago. I was down in Sarasota, Florida, for two days. One day, I go in and he's got this huge dog — and the dogs is just lovin’ me for some reason. So, the next day I bring a couple of treats for the dog, and the dog loves me more and more,” Mahovlich goes on.
“I'm leaving and I give (Bobby) a hug. I don't think his parents ever hugged him. He was like, ‘What is this?’ He embraced that. And it just tells you what we were about as a team by the time it finished.”
9. Where does Alex Galchenyuk go from here?
The forward was released from his PTO with the Colorado Avalanche Thursday after suffering an injury. Had he made the cut, the Avs would’ve been the 2012 third-overall pick’s eighth NHL stop.
10. Now that the “best shape of my life!” storylines are accounted for, reporters can dive into what really matters at training camp.
Like the reaction to this very haphazard power-ranking of the most handsome head coaches in the NHL by a gambling site:
While our own personal list of these men’s attractiveness doesn’t quite align, we got a kick out of all the quotes from the bench bosses.
San Jose’s David Quinn on being No. 29 is pretty good: “It means I'm not last. It's what coaching does to you. Look at me."
Quinn on No. 3 Derek Lalonde is better: "I know Derek Lalonde. He ain't No. 3. There's a 3 in there, but there's another number after it. Please quote me."
11. I get excited every time I hear hockey references in rap songs because my two favourite worlds collide.
The new album from STS and RJD2 has plenty of good tunes. Lyrically, I’m partial to STS’s extended hockey reference on “Goals”:
12. Whenever someone shakes their head at how the Arizona Coyotes or Chicago Blackhawks are conducting their business this season, show them this clip: