Toronto Maple Leafs: Can Morgan Rielly Win the Norris in 2021?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly was a Norris Trophy candidate in 2019, could he be again after the 2021 season?

Morgan Rielly has been arguably the best defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs for a number of years, and his efforts in the 2018/19 season saw him recognized as one of the best blueliners in the entire NHL.

A stout offensive effort from the fifth overall pick of the 2021 Draft helped him to earn the fifth-most votes for the coveted James Norris Memorial Trophy, which was ultimately won by Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Rielly also earned the fourth-highest number of votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, being recognised as demonstrating some of the highest levels of sportsmanship in what truly was a spectacular year for the Vancouver native.

Rielly And The Norris In 2021?

The 2018/19 season saw Rielly lead all defensemen in the NHL with 20 goals in a full 82-game campaign, with a further 52 assists taking his season total to a career-high 72 points. (All Stats via Hockey Reference).

Rielly averaged 23:07 while on the ice that season, posting strong possession stats (51.5% Corsi Rating) while 55.6% of his starts coming in the offensive zone.

While Toronto ultimately fell to the Boston Bruins in their seven-game playoff series, Rielly contributed well with a goal and five total points in that stretch, stepping up and averaging over 25 minutes a night as the Leafs came close a number of times in that series.

The 2019/20 season, however, was a different story for the Leafs’ alternate captain, who was limited to just 47 appearances due to a broken foot suffered in January. 46 of his appearances came before the break, with just one further appearance before the NHL was effectively shut down thanks to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, with the 26-year-old registering 27 total points (three goals, 24 assists) while averaging a career-high 24:12 of ice time.

The break from playing allowed Rielly time to heal before he averaged an astonishing 28:22 in the best-of-five qualifying round against the Columbus Blue Jackets – largely enforced due to the absence of Jake Muzzin after game two.

Despite the setbacks and the unusual experience last season will have been for Rielly, who went through a coaching change, his own personal injury struggle as well as the worldwide pandemic and unique post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman was still named as the 20th best blueliner in the league by in November, though it must be noted that those lists are extremely dubious because they go more by reputation that statistically measured performance.

Looking ahead to 2021, Rielly is arguably entering the prime of his career and while a shortened season will be played, it could see him get back to his very best and put himself firmly in the mind of Norris Trophy voters.

One big reason for this is the off-season addition of T.J. Brodie, who is a significant upgrade over Cody Ceci as Rielly’s primary defensive partner. Brodie is a legitimate top pairing defenseman that will play on Rielly’s right side, allowing him to play more to his strengths in 2021. Brodie will be the best partner Rielly’s ever had, and the only other first pairing player he’s ever regularly been paired with.

Last season saw Rielly start evenly between the offensive and defensive zones, giving him fewer opportunities to make plays in front of opposition nets, especially with supporting Ceci.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe is keen to have his Toronto Maple Leafs team play their usual, expansive offensive style and having the right partner alongside Rielly will go a long way to getting him closer to the offensive production he demonstrated in 2018/19.

Next. Toronto Maple Leafs World Juniors Update. dark

Health will also play an important role for Rielly, and a shorter 56-game season could help him in the long-run, keeping him fresher and raring to go even in the later stage of the regular season.

Rielly is still a top tier defenseman and has been reliable throughout his career, so if he can remain healthy and can build chemistry with Brodie early on, there could be a strong argument for him being in the Norris conversation in 2021.