Sheldon Keefe reveals return dates for Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner

Mike Armenti
April 2, 2024  (1:17 PM)

Mitch Marner set to return this weekend for the Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has informed the Toronto media on Tuesday that both Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner are expected to return to action this week.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been without the services of Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner over the past few weeks, with Rielly suffering a mysterious upper-body injury against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 24th and Marner suffering what was believed to be a high-ankle sprain against the Boston Bruins on March 7th.
The Leafs have acquitted themselves quite well in the absences of two of their top players, going 3-1-0 during Rielly's 4-game absence after last night's 6-4 win over the Florida Panthers. They have also gone 7-3-1 since March 9th, their first game of Marner's injury layoff, a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Marner and Rielly have been skating both on their own and with the team, and were believed to be close to returning this week. Each carried a day-to-day designation coming into this week, but until today, we had no firm date for their returns set. Now, Sheldon Keefe has confirmed that Rielly is expected to re-enter the lineup tomorrow night when the Leafs welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to town, while Marner's return is still a few days away. Keefe believes Marner will be ready to make his return to the lineup this weekend, perhaps against Montreal on Saturday night.
"Morgan will be available for us. Mitch, I haven't had a chance to discuss with him here yet since he's come off the ice but you know I think with him we're just going to feel it out and talk to him and likely make it more of a target for the weekend." - Sheldon Keefe on Rielly and Marner's expected return dates

The Leafs had to trim their roster by one in order to make room for Morgan Rielly.

In a corresponding move to make room on the roster for Rielly, the Leafs also confirmed on Tuesday that they had loaned defenseman Marshall Rifai back to the AHL's Toronto Marlies. Rifai had been recalled by the Leafs prior to their last two games to ensure that Sheldon Keefe had enough bodies on the blueline, with a number of players playing through minor ailments at the moment and a handful of players missing due to injury.
Rifai did not play in any games during his recent recall, but did skate with the team this weekend and Monday, even going so far as to taking warmups on Saturday in Buffalo.
The Marner announcement is not exactly ideal for the Leafs, who rely on him so much in all areas of the game, including on both the power play and the penalty kill. The more time he misses, the greater the risk of dropping important points in the standings, allowing Tampa Bay to creep up and close some distance on the Leafs, with the potential still there to push the Leafs down into a Wild Card spot. To their credit, the Leafs have played surprisingly well without Mitch Marner in recent weeks, but there's no question that the Leafs are a better team with Marner in the lineup. Few players can do what he does and having Marner in the lineup makes the Leafs inarguably more dangerous.
Marner plays a key role with both primary units on special teams. He's also one of the Leafs' most trustworthy defensive forwards and is often on the ice to protect leads late in games. Still, the fact that we finally have an idea as to when he'll be back is certainly good news. His original timeline was "day-to-day from being day-to-day", but after missing nearly a month of action, it will be good to have Marner back in the lineup just in time to begin playoff preparations.
Like Marner, Rielly also factors in for the Leafs on both the power play and the penalty kill, though he was recently ousted from the top PP unit by assistant coach Guy Boucher, who had given Liljegren that assignment with the top group. However, with Liljegren currently listed as week-to-week, it stands to reason that Boucher will re-insert Rielly back on that top unit, pushing Conor Timmins down to the second PP unit.
With the playoffs fast approaching, the Leafs are getting key pieces back at the right time. Bringing Morgan Rielly back into the fold will likely push veteran Mark Giordano back out of the lineup in the short-term. We know how Keefe likes to have multiple right-shot defensemen in the lineup, and with Liljegren currently sidelined, if Keefe scratched Timmins, he'd have only 1 right-shot in the lineup in Ilya Lyubushkin, though T.J. Brodie and Jake McCabe have both taken plenty of reps on the right side for the Leafs this season. Brodie has long preferred playing on the right despite being a lefty.
Ideally, I think Sheldon Keefe would prefer to keep Simon Benoit in the lineup as long as he can, but once Joel Edmundson and Timothy Liljegren return, I think deep down Keefe knows that Benoit, even with his new deal in place, is still likely the #7 D in the pecking order. That is, of course, no disrespect to Benoit, who has played very well. However, with the whole lefty/righty thing coming into play, Benoit just had the misfortune of being born a lefty. Had he been a right-shot defenseman, he probably plays a lot more games for the Leafs this season and in the postseason. Unfortunately, that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Still, a group that looks like this is certainly capable of doing some damage for the Leafs in the playoffs:
extra: Benoit

Who will the Leafs bump out of the lineup to welcome back Mitch Marner this weekend?

As far as who might come out of the lineup when Marner returns to the lineup this weekend, the most likely candidate to sit will be one of Noah Gregor or Ryan Reaves, though it should be noted that Reaves has been playing very well for the Leafs over these last few games, which may give him the edge.
The Leafs did not provide an update on the injured Calle Jarnkrok on Tuesday, but he'll be another player coming back in and bumping someone else out. Unfortunately for the likes of Nicholas Robertson and Pontus Holmberg, it's likely that one of the two of them ends up being the odd man out when Jarnkrok returns. Holmberg may have the edge there, considering he can play center and chip in on the penalty kill.
At any rate, the Leafs having too many good players is a good problem to have. As we all know, the playoffs are very rough and unforgiving and injuries do pile up, so having 14 or 15 NHL caliber forwards and 9 NHL caliber defensemen will certainly come in handy if the Leafs do go on a deeper run this year.
Source: The Hockey News, David Alter
Maple Leafs Anticipate Morgan Rielly's Availability Against Lightning; Potential Return for Mitch Marner This Weekend Against Canadiens
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Sheldon Keefe reveals return dates for Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner

Should the Toronto Maple Leafs reunite Mitch Marner with Auson Matthews on the top line immediately upon his return?

Yes, he's an elite player18246 %
No, I'd ease him back in and elevate him slowly21454 %
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