With a full day to digest the news that the NHL's Department of Player Safety left open the possibility of Morgan Rielly being suspended six or more games for his cross-checking of Ottawa's Ridly Greig, the Toronto Maple Leafs couldn't hide their dismay. resolution.
“We spent a lot of time watching almost all of the checks that have happened in recent years, and the ones that I thought were similar in nature to Morgan weren't even close to asking for it,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said Monday. “At the same time, I think there's also a history of events happening in Toronto and with the Leafs that get more attention and more hype that leads to something like this.
“To that end, it is not surprising.”
Given how long the organization usually takes to stay above the fray and avoid bulletin board-type comments, it was a sign of mounting frustration behind the scenes.
Riley's hearing will be held at the NHL office in New York at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it will not be recorded for all to see.
The Leafs never imagined their best defenseman would be sidelined for up to two weeks when the bus pulled out of the Canadian Tire Center on Saturday night.
After seeing Gregg fire a powerful shot into an empty net to seal Ottawa's 5-3 victory, Rielly immediately sought revenge for the insult he had committed against his team. He checked Greg's head hard enough to knock him off his feet and he was ejected with seconds left on the clock.
“I think it's definitely worth a reaction,” Leafs forward Auston Matthews said. “Obviously Morgan is not a dirty player or a dirty person by any means. I think him getting close to (Gregg) was something that was bound to happen, and someone was going to do it, especially after a play like that.”
“I don't think it's really necessary to go down there and have a tough fight at the net.”
Rielly has no history of accessory discipline, and Gregg has not suffered an apparent injury while playing. He was a full participant in the Senators' practice on Monday.
Had the NHL Department of Player Safety elected to conduct Rielly's disciplinary hearing by telephone, they could not have issued a suspension longer than five games. They instead extended the option of an in-person hearing for him, which was a clear sign that George Barros' group was leaning toward something longer.
“I thought it was going to be a fine, to be honest,” veteran Leafs forward Ryan Reaves said. “A fine and possibly one (match suspension).” But I come from a different era in hockey, where I don't even think that would be a good thing, to be honest with you.
“Maybe the other kid got a phone call and said, ‘Be smart.’”
As Rielly prepares for his session in New York, here's a look at the factors that will determine how long he stays out of the Leafs lineup:
How does this process work?
It is worth noting that Rielly was chosen to accept the NHL's offer for an in-person meeting. He will travel to New York with his agent (J.B. Barry of CAA Hockey), members of Leafs management and representatives from the NHL Players Association to make his case.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, players have had the option of conducting “in-person” hearings remotely via Zoom and several have chosen to do so, including Detroit Red Wings forward David Perron when he was suspended six games for scrutiny in December. .
Rielly will apply a more personal touch.
The biggest thing working against him is believed to be the fact that his crosses were delivered after play, after a goal had been scored, rather than during normal play. It is expected that he will try to explain to Barros what he was thinking when he was chasing Greg and how the play got away from him.
“Morgan just made it clear that he had no intention of the way things looked or the way things went, but he's going (to New York) just to make the point that he's not going to let it go away.” Keefe said.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety has issued a range of different penalties for checking violations in recent years — from a one-game suspension to Edmonton's Alex Chiasson in 2021 to a four-game suspension to Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in 2022 to Perron being suspended six games.
While the in-person hearing allows player safety to give Rielly six or more games, it has discretion to go below that limit.
Every game his ban might be relieved is valuable, both for the Leafs as they continue to fight for a playoff berth, and for Rielly, who will lose more than $39,000 in salary per game, eventually being suspended.
Comparisons to the Perón incident are unavoidable. He appealed his six-game suspension to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, only for it to be upheld, and will take the case to a neutral arbitrator this summer.
Bettman noted in his ruling that Peron had other options when he chose to defend an injured teammate rather than check Senators defenseman Artem Zub in the side of the head.
He could have pushed him, punched him, or even dropped his gloves to fight, but he didn't. “Had he made other choices to support his teammate, he could have been disciplined, but the episode may have ended without supplemental discipline,” Pittman wrote.
The same undoubtedly applies to the decision made by Reilly.
What about Reilly's history?
Riley doesn't break the rules often.
He has appeared in 800 regular season games in the NHL and has a total of 100 minor league penalties. For context, Hampus Lindholm, who was selected after Rielly in the 2012 draft, took 205 minors while playing in 45 fewer games.
Forty outfielders have played in at least 700 games from the start of Rielly's career in the 2013-14 season to the present. Only five — Mark-Edouard Vlasic, Jared Spurgeon, Cody Ceci, Nick Leddy and Cam Fowler — have taken fewer than the minors.
Rielly finished fourth in voting for the Lady Byng Trophy in 2019 after a season that saw him booed for just seven minor penalties while playing more than 23 minutes a night. Rielly was on pace to have another Lady Byng-like season this year, with just four minor penalties through the first 50 games. He did not take the first ball until the 41st match.
“I don't think Muhammad has ever done anything dangerous,” teammate William Nylander said. “What does he have, like three penalties this year or something?”
Riley has been called for just three five-minute majors throughout his career, and that includes the one he earned after examining Gregg on Saturday.
Last season, when the Leafs were playing the Jets in October, Rielly was given five minutes for fighting and a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct when he confronted Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey.
Morrissey had just run over Reilly's young teammate, Nick Robertson.
As with Gregg over the weekend, Rielly was defending his team.
What are the options if Reilly doesn't want to accept his punishment?
There is a high probability that this suspension will lead to an appeal.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, players have 48 hours after the decision to formally submit a written decision. They remain suspended if the suspension period is still ongoing, and Pittman must hear appeals on an urgent basis.
If the commissioner confirms a suspension of six or more games, Section 18.13 of the CBA allows the player to refer his case to a neutral arbitrator. He must file this appeal within seven days of Pittman's ruling.
As Reilly awaits his fate, he hopes there's no reason his case has to come to this.
(Top Image: Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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