Toronto Maple Leafs Demoting Rielly from Power-Play Long Overdue

The Toronto Maple Leafs shuffle powerplay lines with Marner’s upcoming return.

The morning practice of the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday saw the return of star forward Mitch Marner. His return on the ice was followed by inevitable changes to the line-up, however, these changes will also affect the powerplay units.

With a poor success rate  on the man advantage, it’s ridiculous this is only happening now. The Toronto Maple Leafs have arguably the most talented offensive group in the entire league, yet, they’re performing far below the expectations that come with it.

After the season that saw veterans Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk leave Toronto in free agency, the powerplay took a turn for the worst. It lacked a plan. Bozak was on the powerplay to win faceoffs, securing early possession. Van Riemsdyk? JvR was there to screen the goalie and deflect any shot on goal towards the net.

Now, they play the puck around, often slower they do when playing 5v5. At times, it seems the players don’t know what to do with the man advantage, looking anhedonic most of the time.

Based on the morning practice, it’s a big change, something that is, well, again, long overdue.

Demoting Rielly, promoting Barrie

During practice, Tyson Barrie replaced Morgan Rielly and William Nylander replaced Andreas Johnsson on the first powerplay unit, demoting Rielly and Johnsson to the second powerplay unit.

The switch between Johnsson and Nylander is a logical choice, Nylander is simply the better player between the two. Though, that’s not even the reason the switch makes sense. Keefe values puck-possession and puck-movement on the powerplay above battling in the crease. Nylander is an élite puck-mover, making it a no brainer to promote him to the first unit.

Demoting Rielly to move Barrie to the first unit, is a more sensitive switch.

Obviously, it’s a big deal. For Rielly to be passed on the first unit for a player, who untill Babcock got fired, was having probably the worst free agency year ever, is a blow. Rielly hasn’t been exactly great on the unit, but that was not on him, the entire unit stunk.

It would have been fair to give Rielly with Nylander on their unit and an actual strategy.

The changes on the powerplay come shortly after the changes made on the penalty kill, which immediately showed results against Buffalo. Keefe told media that assistant coach Dave Hakstol wanted to make changes on the special units.

Evidently, not only the players are blooming under the influence of Sheldon Keefe, even the coaching staff is changing for the better.