The Toronto Maple Leafs made the right decision to sit out Morgan Rielly in their 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Although Maple Leaf fans would argue Jake Gardiner or Paul Ranger should have sat in place of Rielly, the ramifications of sitting anybody other than the rookie wouldn’t have made much sense for Toronto.
Rielly didn’t necessarily sit because he wasn’t playing well. He sat because he was the only one who could be left out of the lineup without it hurting the Maple Leafs in the future. Rielly has been one of Toronto’s top-four defensemen all season, but a recent slip in his play is what made the decision easier to keep him out of the lineup. He’s played better than Gardiner or Ranger through the first month of the season, but keeping either of them out of the lineup is much more difficult.
Even though Rielly has played better than Gardiner, keeping Gardiner out could affect his confidence and certainly hurt his trade value. Toronto management is trying to determine if they have room on their roster for both Rielly and Gardiner, two defensemen who are very similar with their playing style. If it’s ultimately decided the Maple Leafs can’t keep both then they’ll look to move Gardiner, and the only way they can do that is if they showcase him in the lineup. Sitting a rookie doesn’t receive a lot of attention from the rest of league as it’s considered part of the development process, but sitting Gardiner would raise a lot of questions around the league as to what’s wrong with him and why can’t he stay in the lineup.
Fans will also point the finger to Ranger and suggest he should be left out of the lineup in favor of Rielly. However, after struggling to begin the year, Ranger has played a lot better as of late. All indications suggest he just needs more ice-time to get back to being comfortable at the NHL level. After taking three years off from the NHL game, the 29-year-old just needs to get his timing back to return to the player he was before he walked away from hockey. He’s not going to get his timing back sitting in the press box, therefore it made little sense for Toronto’s coaching staff to keep him out of the lineup.
The Maple Leafs will also hope this lights a fire under Gardiner and Ranger to be better as the season progresses. It’s no secret Rielly didn’t deserve to sit and was only being left out of the lineup because he’s a rookie. Now that Mark Fraser is back from injury Toronto has seven defensemen on the roster which means players will be rotating in and out. Rielly might have been left out of the lineup to start given Fraser’s return, but it’s guaranteed he won’t always be the one to sit out.
As the Maple Leafs look to find the combination on their blue-line that gives them the best chance at success that lineup will include Rielly. Who it leaves out will remain to be seen, however, Gardiner and Ranger can officially be put on notice.