Dubas’ silence is golden, and the importance of Rielly: Leaflets

Photo credit:Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
We are now on day three of no Leafs hockey. It’s now less than a week to go until the Leafs are back at it against the Blue Jackets. And we are now under four weeks until the NHL trade deadline. It seems like the perfect time to get into some Saturday morning Leafs takes.

The lack of information that comes out of the Leafs front office

I’m sure that Kyle Dubas loves the fact that the trade deadline reporting on the Leafs is that they are very much in on a forward. Or a defenseman. Or both. The fact that no one can nail down what the Leafs priorities are and that insiders are left to desperately speculate on what the Leafs could be up to makes Kyle’s job a lot easier.
One of the reasons this has to be a win for Dubas is that pretty much everyone with an audience would be dissecting why his target isn’t right for Toronto or why the price should be so much higher than Toronto is willing to pay. Understandably the second that Toronto gets attached to a player in a rumour it’s probably simpler to just move on to someone else rather than refine the deal as anyone that Toronto is looking at should surely cost Matthew Knies and/or a first rounder. I’m all for letting the man work in peace.
We have heard Toronto connected to Ryan O’Reilly back in December (a lot has changed since then) and Jake McCabe more recently (although often with the statement the Leafs won’t pay the Hawks price for him) and that’s about all we have to go off of. That means readers of this site and any Leafs news site have to endure a couple of months of “here’s a guy” articles rather than updates on specific targets. I guess it’s the readers that suffer the most.
Ignoring the Nick Foligno deal, it seems like it is generally best to just trust that Kyle Dubas is operating off some pretty good information. And if you want to put any stock in Kyle Dubas’ travel plans informing potential Leafs targets, he’s watched a couple of Canucks games while out for the CHL Top Prospects game and those were against the Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets. He also went to Montreal early a few weeks back (the Canadiens were facing the Panthers at the game he watched), and took in a Flyers game at the beginning of January against the Arizona Coyotes before the Leafs pro and amateur scout meetings in Philadelphia that weekend. So that’s 7 of 16 non-playoff teams that Dubas made an effort to watch when not playing the Leafs, that doesn’t really narrow things down.

Rielly is a Leaf because of his 5v5 offense

I went into Rielly in some detail a while back so this go around I’m going to focus a bit more on the surface level of why Morgan Rielly is not only a Leaf but their number one defenseman. You’ve probably already assumed it is offense, and if you didn’t get that before reading the header of this section, that would have truly given it away.
Yes, this is part 420 in a 69,000 part series on how Morgan Rielly is a Leaf because he drives even strength offense. Not the powerplay. If you want to raise your concerns about how the Leafs would be better off with a heavy blueline shot when Toronto can already set up Marner and Nylander to move the puck around the offensive zone, I’ve got time for that argument, but I will die on the hill that Rielly is one of the best 5v5 offensive defensemen in the game. (This feels like I’m arguing with people who say Steph Curry isn’t a good shooter.)
The fact of the matter is the Leafs have improved their team defense in recent years, but it is the offensive core that still drives the team’s success. Morgan Rielly is part of how that offensive core gets their opportunities.
WithTOI WithCF/60GF/60GF% WithGF% Without RiellyGF WOWY DifxGF/60xGF% WithxGF% Without RiellyxG WOWY DifHDCF/60
What we see is that not only is there a significant number of opportunities when Rielly is on the ice with the Leafs forwards who most typically occupy roles in the top six, but with the Matthews line in particular, the differentials for goals and expected goals significantly outweighs the number of opportunities coming against those lines. You can make a case for Rielly and Jarnkrok not being on the ice together, and perhaps it is generally better if RIelly isn’t teamed up with the Tavares line, but even with Tavares the offensive spike when Rielly and Tavares are together is significant, they are just more of a mess defensively.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there isn’t much that Rielly can do for someone like Zach Aston-Reese and again that just likely means being a bit more selective about who is on the ice with Rielly, as much as you can control that over long whistle stretches of 5v5 play.
It shouldn’t have to be said so frequently that Rielly is here for offense, that $7.5M is a good price point for a top offensive defenseman, and that the second Rielly was gone the number one thing the Leafs would be looking for is an elite offensive puck mover/carrier to find the Leafs top forwards, but I’ve said it anyway.
I can appreciate the frustration that Rielly seemingly makes the wrong coverage decision every time the Leafs opposition enters their zone, I do experience cold sweats while he defends odd man rushes, but we also tend to focus on these mistakes more than we celebrate a swift tape to tape breakout pass to Nylander that leads to sustained offensive zone pressure. Or how when he is working with a strong partner that he is capable of skating the Leafs out of a lot of trouble when facing top line opposition.

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