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PER LEAFS GM, RIELLY APPROACHED COACHES LAST SEASON TO GIVE UP HIS SPOT ON PP1 TO BARRIE

Last season ended up being a bit of a mixed-bag for GM Kyle Dubas and his Toronto Maple Leafs after all was said and done. A good example of this was Dubas managing to get out from under a pair of rough contracts in Zaitsev and Marleau, and bringing in Tyson Barrie to help solidify the right side in their top four. They ended up having to move beloved homegrown product Nazem Kadri in order to address a glaring need on the back end, but ended up with a year of Tyson Barrie and a nice complimentary piece in Alexander Kerfoot in the process. Still, at many points throughout the year, the Leafs really could have used what Kadri brought to the table.

Another example was the obvious struggles that head coach Mike Babcock had to begin the season and losing the locker room prior to his eventual firing and the hiring of the man who turned things around for the Buds and led them to the postseason, former Marlies bench boss Sheldon Keefe.

One among a handful positive notes from the 2019-20 season occurred shortly after the arrival of Sheldon Keefe, when Tyson Barrie was in the midst of his early season struggles. According to a story told by Kyle Dubas, Morgan Rielly had approached the new coach to offer up his spot on the top power play unit to a struggling Barrie, so long as the coach agreed that it could benefit the team.

"He [Rielly] started the year off and did one of the most selfless things that I have seen: In mid-November, he was on the first power play, and we had acquired Tyson Barrie the summer previous. Tyson got off to a fairly slow start with us — he hadn’t produced and hadn’t scored — and as someone who was facing unrestricted free agency in the new year, in a new city with a lot of expectations on him, he started to really struggle.

Morgan, when Sheldon came into the job, went to Sheldon and said he would have no problem, if it was what was best for the team, sliding to the second power-play unit to put Tyson on the first unit so that Tyson could get going. If we were going to reach our potential, everyone felt it was important that Tyson played the way we knew he was capable of playing.

I just thought that spoke so much to the character of Morgan Rielly and everything that he is about. About a month and a half later, he sustained a really bad injury — a broken foot on a blocked shot in Florida — and he had also been dealing with an injury in the first half of the season before he was hurt, which had kind of slowed him down. On any team, you need players like that who are willing to put the team ahead of themselves.

I thought, with Morgan Rielly, he has always done that here. When he came back and was fully healthy against Columbus, it was great to see him back at full bore — the way we all knew him to be. As a manager and a coach, you are always rooting, if you have players on your team that are so selfless in their actions, for them to ultimately have success. I think everybody does on the team does as well. We are really excited to see Morgan next year back and firing on all cylinders throughout the entire season."



It's reasons like this why Rielly is so beloved in the Leafs' locker room. Although John Tavares ended up with the "C" on his sweater, and many viewed Auston Matthews as the defacto number two in line for the honor had it not gone to Tavares, I firmly believe that Morgan Rielly was the Leafs' best candidate from a pure leadership standpoint. He's a shining example of not only how to best conduct yourself on the ice, but off the ice as well. A real team-first guy. That's not a knock against Matthews, who I believe put the team on his back at many points last season. It just speaks to the character of Morgan Rielly. The guy, simply put, is just captain material.

If Tavares never signed in Toronto, who would have been named captain?
MIKE ARMENTI
NOVEMBER 29, 2020  (9H29)