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Morgan Rielly and the never-ending call for consistency from George Parros and NHL Player Safety

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Photo credit:Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs responded well to their latest bout with adversity on Tuesday night. Only an hour after the NHL announced Morgan Rielly’s suspension of five games for cross-checking Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig in the face, it was announced that John Tavares and Mitch Marner would miss the game with an illness. 
Down two of their top forwards, their top defenceman, and their most dependable middle-six winger in Calle Jarnkrok, the Leafs naturally played one of their tightest games of the season and shut down the red-hot St. Louis Blues 4-1. 
We won’t spend too much time on the Rielly-Greig incident itself, because frankly, it’s already been milked into oblivion by the media, both locally and across the country. We know the facts – Greig wound up and took a slap shot into Toronto’s empty net, Rielly didn’t appreciate it and cross-checked him in the face. The Senators rookie got up on his own accord and didn’t miss any games (or practices), and since then, everybody’s had an opinion on the situation. Was it necessary to cross-check him? Was the act a sign of the team finally showing signs of a spine when other teams disrespect them? Or was it an unnecessary, selfish play with no real effect on the game that only set the team back further with a suspension? 
If you want to mull over that for the 5000th time, there’s no shortage of articles out there to do so. But, we’re going to take things in a different direction. The direction of the NHL’s history regarding similar incidents, and why consistency simply seems like too much to ask for. 
Right off the bat, I want to disclose that overall, I think five games was an appropriate suspension for Rielly. The NHL has been trying to eliminate headshots and plays cut from that same cloth (with not much to show for it so far), and for the greater good of the game, less cross-checks to the head overall is a good thing for the league. 
I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t sort of love what Greig did from the rivalry aspect of the sport. Was it disrespectful? Yes. Was it a textbook example of a player like Greig, who makes their money getting under the skin of opponents as much as they do contributing on the scoresheet, doing just that? Yes. Would Leafs fans have absolutely loved it if someone like Nick Robertson did that to the Senators, and would Senators fans have loved it if Brady Tkachuk responded the same way Rielly did? Yes and yes. 
Sure, you’ll have your fans who want plays like that out of the game entirely, and I don’t disagree with that notion either. But, given that Rielly stood up for his team and Greig was totally fine from the whole incident, I can respect the events as a spark that the Battle of Ontario desperately needs. 
The issue with the suspension that I take once again comes down to one thing – consistency. 
Let’s start here. Rielly’s suspension, on paper, is the second-worst this year. The only one to beat it in terms of length belongs to Detroit Red Wings forward David Perron, who did more or less the same thing to Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub back in December. The difference here is that this play happened during the game, and was in response to a hit that saw Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin get knocked to the ice (although, Zub wasn’t the one who threw the hit, so call it accidental friendly fire if you want). Other than that, they were pretty similar. Same weapon used, same intent to hurt. Perron got six games for this, which, if this is the precedent we’re trying to set, is appropriate. 
So, in the NHL’s eyes, the Perron incident and the Rielly incident are the two worst offences committed by players this season? I’ll let TLN alumni Steve Dangle sum up the reaction to that.
When I saw that the NHL offered Rielly the in-person hearing, which meant there was the option for the suspension to go beyond five games, the first thing that came to mind was an incident that took place back in November. New York Rangers defenceman Jacob Trouba, who has a history of suspensions, swinging his stick like an axe at the face of Boston Bruins forward Trent Frederic. Or, as TSN’s Jeff O’Neill so eloquently put it, “going to Top Golf on Frederic’s face”.
Same weapons used as Rielly and Perron, same point of contact. The only difference was that Trouba’s incident was more of a stick swing instead of a cross-check. So, how long was he suspended for? Zero. He walked away from it with a $5000 fine. For context, Trouba makes $8 million a year. Five thousand dollars for him is the equivalent of a $31 fine for somebody who makes $50000 a year. He was basically charged a case of beer for doing virtually the same thing Rielly and Perron did.
It also brought me back to a game the COVID-shortened season in 2020-21 between the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, where then-Habs defenceman Joel Edmundson committed a very similar infraction on then-Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds. I’ll spoil it for you right now – there were no repercussions for this. Not even a fine.
Tell me how that’s different from what Rielly did? And save me the sentiment of “Rielly’s was after the play”. That shouldn’t matter. We’re not trying to eliminate headshots after the play. We’re trying to eliminate them period.
There’s another similar event from that same season that comes to mind, this time involving Alex Chiasson, who played for the Edmonton Oilers at the time, and former Leaf Jimmy Vesey. Chiasson got one game for this, which was after the play. 
Here, I’ll sprinkle in a couple more incidents that resulted in a suspension of one game or less. Some of them even without a fine. 
If you’re going to write everything in this article off because it’s coming from a website called “The Leafs Nation”, be my guest. But please understand, this is not a Toronto Maple Leafs thing. Although, Sheldon Keefe does seem to think there’s some extra eyes on the Leafs for things like this. 
Regardless of what Keefe thinks though, the purpose of this piece is simply to ask the NHL for some consistency when it comes to cases like this. Set a precedent and stick to it. It’s impossible to call games by the rulebook when every suspension is essentially decided by a blindfolded throw of a dart. And, most importantly, it doesn’t deter players from doing it again. Why was Trouba allowed to commit an offence of the same severity and walk away with a fine that amounts to less than 0.01% of his salary, given the history that he has, but Rielly, who’s a first-time offender and was contending for the Lady Byng Trophy until recently, gets five games?
Consistency, George. That’s all. We’ve been having this same exact conversation it seems since he’s taken over at head of the department of player safety. If you want to eliminate plays like cross-checks to the face, set the suspension at five games minimum and go from there. Hell, if you REALLY want to eliminate it, make the punishment something absurd like 15 games, or some sort of number that would scare players from committing these infractions ever. This obviously won’t happen, so the next best thing you can do is establish a precedent and stick to it. Rielly’s suspension is fine, so long as you keep that same energy when future infractions are committed. Too much to ask for? Maybe, but it has to be talked about.

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