Is Morgan Rielly picking up where Jake Gardiner left off?

Published December 31, 2022 at 2:22 PM
BY BEN HODGSON
Morgan Rielly had a tough first game back after suffering an MCL sprain. In his first appearance since a collision on November 21st sent him to LTIR, the Leafs #1 defenceman turned the puck over, leading to a 2 on 1 that wound up costing the Leafs the game. Rielly was immediately panned on social media for the blunder. The fact that fans were so quick to jump on Reilly's mistake and ignore his 2 power play points from earlier in the game left me with a familiar feeling. Morgan Rielly has become the fans' new whipping boy, a scapegoat in a game where there was plenty of blame to go around.

Lets look at the play in question for example. Timothy Liljegren had time and space to make a smart play and instead fired a rocket of a pass into Reilly's feet. The puck took an awkward bounce which eventually led to the turn over. On the ensuing 2 on 1, Liljegren failed to take away the shot or the pass, forcing Matt Murray to stay square to the shooter. When the pass came, Murray had no chance of getting across the net in time to make a save. That goal is more on Liljegren than it is on Rielly.

My apologies for the horrendous camera angles at Mullet Arena




Public perception of Jake Gardiner now is that of a bumbling defenseman who turned the puck over as often as he didn't. The truth is Jake Gardiner was a good player, and a very good offensive defenseman. He had horrible timing when it came to turnovers, however, and that proved to be his downfall. Now, to be clear, Morgan Rielly is a much better player than Gardiner was. The similarities between the two end at their playing styles and the fanbase's perception of them.

So, having said all of that, here's the deal. Any one of you that has written the words "Trade Rielly" in a comment section can turn in your fan card now. Rielly is a heart and soul guy, a leader in the room, and an excellent hockey player. He also signed a long term deal in Toronto at a discounted rate compared to his comparables. Not only that, but he is one of the few Leafs willing to drop the gloves in defense of his teammates. He is the longest tenured Leaf. He is under contract longer than any other Leaf. Morgan Rielly is a guy you want on your team, and a guy who deserves a lot more respect from the fanbase he plays for, even if his defensive game does sometimes leave something to be desired
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