The Toronto Maple Leafs are preparing to play their next games without top defenseman Morgan Rielly, who could face a lengthy suspension.
He has an in-person hearing with the NHL’s player safety department scheduled for Tuesday in New York. An in-person hearing allows the league to suspend Rielly for six or more games.
Rielly checked Ridly Greig high in retaliation for the Ottawa Senators player firing a shot into the empty net with 5.1 seconds left in the teams’ game Saturday night.
“I think he definitely deserved a reaction,” teammate and All-Star Auston Matthews said after practice Monday. “Morgan is not a malicious player or someone dirty, by any means. I think getting closer to him was something that was meant to happen. Someone was going to do it, especially after a play like that. I just don’t think it’s really necessary to go there and ‘compete with the hardest shot’ to the net.”
Toronto hosts the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night and will play six games over the next 10 days. If Rielly receives six games, he would match the longest suspension imposed this season.
“I was expecting a fine, a maximum of one game (suspension),” Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves said. “The boy got up afterwards (and was) completely fine. I think that also has to be taken into account.”
Reaves, 37, called Rielly’s reaction “appropriate.”
“If a guy puts a clapper in our net, are you going to go play with him? No, he has to send himself a message,” Reaves said. “The code has changed a little bit, the game has changed a lot, and it’s unfortunate that a kid like that can get away with something like that, and then one of our best players is going to get suspended for it.”
Rielly, 29, has no disciplinary record in his 11-year professional career. Greig, 21, son of former NHL player Mark Greig, is in his first full season in the NHL.
Senators coach Jacques Martin said it didn’t matter how Greig scored the empty goal and he was not happy with Rielly’s actions.
“I don’t think it’s a hockey play,” Martin said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s frustration or something, but it’s not part of the game.”
Ottawa’s Josh Norris said he understood Rielly’s frustration, although he wasn’t a fan of the play.
“I loved it, but I’m sure obviously if we were on the other side, I don’t know if we would have liked it either,” Norris said. “It’s over. I guess it was entertaining.”
Veteran forward Claude Giroux said it was the product of an intense game.
“Emotions get to you sometimes,” Giroux said. “Obviously I don’t like to see him face each other there, but there’s really not much to say. “Sometimes that kind of thing happens.”
The fallout is the Leafs, who are trying to hold on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, dealing with life without Rielly.
“We all have to take advantage of those minutes,” defenseman Mark Giordano said. “Those are big minutes. He plays in every situation. He’s been really underrated this year across the league. I think offensively, obviously we all know what he does, but I think in all areas of the game he’s been very good this year. A big part of our team, obviously.”