Morgan Rielly lost his helmet along the boards with about two and a half minutes left to play. It happens. He changed, the Leafs moved into the offensive zone, the helmet stayed in the corner. He prayed for a stoppage in play, or a helmet he could wear. He got neither, and Brad Marchand soon scored the game-winning goal.
The Hockey Night in Canada broadcasting crew immediately placed the blame on him.
With his helmet on the ice and Corrado’s being too small, Morgan Rielly had to sit out the game’s closing moments. pic.twitter.com/QL3JwUl1kT
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 17, 2016
“The guy who should be out there is sitting on the bench without a helmet,” said Craig Simpson as the Bruins celebrated.”I mentioned that they needed to get him one, and they brought him Frankie Corrado’s. It didn’t fit. They couldn’t get it on, and so on a shift, Marincin ends up going out and what happens? The puck follows you around. A turnover, and a potential game-winning goal with 47 seconds [remaining]. All because Morgan Rielly couldn’t find a helmet that fit.”
That would be a fine description of the unfortunate events if it stopped there.
“Just wear it.” Simpson said of Corrado’s helmet. “Even if it doesn’t fit, get out there. Instead, far too long, he could have taken another player’s, bad mistake. Head down, as Marincin had to play forever, turns the puck over, and gives the go-ahead goal.”
Well, not actually. Rielly absolutely went a long time without stepping on the ice, but this didn’t mean that Marincin was in the midst of an extended shift. In fact, he had just got on the ice, subbing on for Dion Phaneuf at 1:01, just 14 seconds before the goal after a rest of about 1:40. It’s not the most opportune scenario, but not overly unusual; especially if you’re on one of the two penalty killing units like Marincin is.
Glenn Healy sided with Simpson on the issue. “I gotta tell you, I put that one on Rielly a bit because Josh Leivo next to him offered him the helmet.” said Healy. “You gotta be a little more aggressive and say ‘I’ll take anybody’s on the bench’. The one that came out there from the room didn’t fit, but you gotta get out there and get playing.”
Taking a look at the footage, however, I don’t think there was much time for that.
Rielly (he’s on the bench, directly at the blue line) first receives Corrado’s helmet at 1:08, seven seconds before Marincin hops on the ice. The close-up clip they showed us, which one would presume was the second attempt to put on the helmet, shows Phaneuf getting on the bench, meaning it happened after Marincin had already got on; at this point. Rielly gets the helmet for a second time as Phaneuf is being seated, meaning there’s no time to replace Marincin.
Can you say that Rielly should have tried on Leivo’s helmet? Perhaps. But at that point, it probably wasn’t as much “I give up on trying on helmets” so much as it was “he’s already on the ice, no worries”.
With all due respect, what I found particularly concerning, were the options that the broadcasters suggested Rielly should have taken. “Put a helmet on to skate out there, and get rid of it, if it doesn’t fit properly,” said Simpson, while Healy eventually countered with “I wonder if he could get on the ice without one? What’s the recourse? A whistle? A penalty?”
Out of curiosity, I consulted the NHL Rulebook to find out, and found this nugget in Section 9.6:
A player may continue to participate in the play without his helmet.
However, if he goes to his players’ bench to be substituted for, he may
not return to the ice during play without a helmet (nor may a player
exit the penalty bench during play without a helmet). Should he do so,
the play shall be stopped once his team has gained control of the
puck. If the play is stopped for such an infraction in the attacking zone,
the ensuing face-off will take place at the nearest face-off spot in the
neutral zone of the non-offending team. If the play is stopped for such
an infraction in the defending or neutral zone, the ensuing face-off will
take place at the nearest face-off spot to the location of the puck in
that zone when the play was stopped.
One can imagine that Mike Babcock will, moving forward, keep this rule in his consideration if he hasn’t already. With that said, the Leafs were on the counter-attack searching for a game-winning goal at the moment that the Phaneuf/Hunwick pairing switched out for Polak/Marincin, so I doubt that the team would strategically negate that.
Because Simpson and Healy were unaware of the rule, however, the suggestion was that Rielly go out there with the intention of playing without a helmet, either immediately or “by accident” once on the ice. The NHL hasn’t had a player go without a helmet on a non-accidental basis since 1997, and helmets have been mandatory for all players who have entered the league since 1979. Recently, they expanded that to include visors or cages as a mandatory accessory?
Why? Because playing hockey without a helmet, especially at the highest level with the fastest and strongest players, is extremely dangerous.
Look next to Morgan Rielly in the first GIF. You’ll find Jake Gardiner, who suffered a significant concussion in 2012. He even appeared to rush himself back, playing well below his standard for weeks on end afterwards. It wasn’t fun to watch; it was scary. He had a helmet on that was fitted to himself. It wasn’t enough that time, but it had probably saved him before.
He’s not the only one on the Leafs to have at least one concussion during their career that the public knows about. Nazem Kadri. PA Parenteau. Shawn Matthias. Michael Grabner. Leo Komarov. Roman Polak. Joffrey Lupul. James Reimer, who was backing up in goal. Even Leivo, who offered up his helmet, suffered a pretty notable concussion when playing in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves. That’s ten of his 19 teammates tonight, who in more optimal circumstances, still suffered traumatic head injuries over their careers. Of the nine who didn’t, three (Hunwick, Phaneuf, and Richard Clune) have accidentally ended players careers with a check or a bunch that ended in something worse than anticipated.
If you’re Morgan Rielly, a super promising, already brand-name young player who has no history of head injuries, do you want to take the risk? Especially when you’re going to be rushing to score a goal? Especially when you’re facing the Boston Bruins, one of the most physical teams in hockey? If you’re Mike Babcock, do you want him doing it? If you’re Leafs management, who are currently watching over William Nylander as he recovers from a hit to the head from nearly a month ago, do you want to see Morgan Rielly out there?
Is it worth maybe getting two points when you’re near the bottom of the standings? No way.
Here’s the big-picture reality of the situation. Morgan Rielly lost his helmet and the play lasted longer without a whistle than anybody expected. The equipment staff, not expecting to have to fetch him a helmet, didn’t grab one for a while. By the time Rielly could even get Frank Corrado’s helmet on his head, Marincin and Polak went out in front of him. Once he got it on his head, he didn’t feel safe with it and hoped for the play to pause.
At that moment, Martin Marincin made an atrocious dump pass that negated his otherwise decent-ish night and Brad Marchand fired a puck into a net left empty by Jonathan Bernier, who stopped the puck for Marincin to give away. Does the situation change of Rielly’s out instead? Maybe. Or maybe a helmetless Morgan Rielly gets to the puck faster than Marincin did, decides to attempt to rush it out, and gets dummied by Marchand. To be honest, I’m okay with having not found out. In my eyes, nobody did anything wrong.
Well, other than Marincin. He probably wants that pass back more than Mo wanted his bucket.