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Maple Leafs’ New Whipping Boy: Morgan Rielly

Toronto Maple Leafs Nikita Zaitsev Calle Rosen

Following a tradition that seems to be part of being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, there’s a new “Whipping Boy” in town, and that’s the team’s top defenseman, Morgan Rielly.

Whipping Boys Are a Maple Leafs Tradition

Maple Leafs fans have a history of focusing their anger and frustration on one player, and often they are defensemen, although there are exceptions.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs defencemen Nikita Zaitsev and Calle Rosen. Zaitsev was often a target of fans’ ire. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Since Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander became the core of the team, many players have worn the thorny crown. In recent memory, Jake Gardiner and his one-time defensive partner Nikita Zaitsev were targeted. Both had a knack for making mistakes that seemed to happen at the worst moments and usually ended up in the back of the net. Both have since left the team and are not remembered well.

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs’ Defenseman Jake Gardiner: Where Is He Now?

More recently, Jake Muzzin and the down-and-up-again Justin Holl were added to the list. However, some forwards have been targeted as well. One was the “soft” Nylander after his contract holdout. He was followed by the “greedy” Marner, and John Tavares has also taken some turns. His problems seem to alternate between his age, speed, and contract.

Morgan Rielly’s Turn

Since his return from a knee injury suffered in a collision with Kyle Palmieri of the New York Islanders on Nov. 21, Rielly has struggled to find his game. In nine contests since he returned to the team, he has three points, all assists, and a minus-5 rating. At five-on-five, Rielly has been on the ice for four goals for and seven goals against. 

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This has made Rielly the latest Maple Leaf to face the wrath of fans. In a recent poll on MapleLeafsInsider.com, people were asked: “Should the Leafs look at trading Morgan Rielly?” Most replied yes (53.2 percent).

Rielly’s Play Since Returning from Injury

Because of the flack, we decided to look a bit deeper into Reilly’s game stats. As far as plus/minus goes, in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes in Arizona, he was a minus-3. In his next five games, Rielly went zero, plus-1, minus-1, plus-2, and plus-1. He was only a minus in one of five games. However, in his last three, he’s been a minus-1, minus-2, and minus-2. He’s played better. 

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If we look…

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