Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly pondering team's inconsistencies during self-isolation period

During the quiet moments of self-isolation, Morgan Rielly has reflected on Toronto's rollercoaster campaign that screeched to a halt when the NHL suspended its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toronto defenceman says players must use down time to 'take a look in the mirror'

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, seen above in 2019, spoke about life in self-isolation and his team's habit of inconsistent play this season during a conference call on Thursday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Morgan Rielly has been working out at home trying to stay in shape.

The Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman is also reading, watching movies and improving his rudimentary cooking skills. He's fairly confident with the barbecue and has a decent handle on pasta.

"I don't have the confidence yet for fish," Rielly said. "I don't want to under-cook it ... then we've got a whole other situation on our hands."

And when there's quiet moments — there's been, quite frankly, a lot of those — he's reflected on Toronto's rollercoaster campaign that screeched to a halt when the NHL suspended its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few weeks before the pause, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas used the words "Jekyll and Hyde" to describe his team.

On some nights, they were world-beaters with a high-flying roster consisting of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander up front, Rielly leading from the back end, and Frederik Andersen in goal.

Toronto went 15-4-1 after Sheldon Keefe replaced the fired Mike Babcock as head coach in November and could seemingly almost do no wrong.

And then there were times following that somewhat expected surge when basic breakouts or defensive zone coverages looked like advanced algebra.

WATCH | Maples Leafs' Tavares joins Atlantic Division reps:

The best of NHLers self-isolating: Atlantic Division

3 years ago
Duration 3:08
Today we shift over to the Atlantic Division to find out who you don't want to be sitting behind on the bus after he ate chicken wings. 

Rielly sat out 23 games with a broken foot he suffered blocking a shot in Florida on Jan. 12 in an 8-4 loss — one of many low points in the New Year.

He then watched emergency backup goalie David Ayres become an international celebrity when the Carolina Hurricanes embarrassed Toronto 6-3 at home on Feb. 22, and was on the road to witness the Leafs gain a solitary point against the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks — who just happen to be the three worst teams in the Western Conference.

Despite having a lot of information, Rielly still has few answers.

"I can't really put my finger on it," he said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "It's important that we use this down time to really take a look in the mirror. As players, we all have to be better.

"If you look at the ups and the downs, that's obviously not how you want your year to be described."

WATCH | What could playoffs look like if NHL returns?

If the NHL returns, what could the playoffs look like?

3 years ago
Duration 3:21
While the NHL is on pause because of Covid-19, Rob Pizzo looks at what could happen if the league starts back up again this season. 

Rielly returned to the lineup two days before the novel coronavirus outbreak forced the NHL's hand, playing more than 21 minutes in a gritty 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Leafs, who were 36-25-9 and in a post-season spot at the time the league went on hiatus, seemed to play up or down to the opposition's level throughout 2019-20, which is a problem for a team that once again started training camp with Stanley Cup aspirations.

"You want it to be a bit more consistent," Rielly said. "But with the bad there's always good. We answered the bell at times when we had to against some pretty good teams. And then the downs being the games where you're supposed to win or you really expect a good team to be able to win, and we weren't able to execute.

"Deep inside, you have to take it personally."

Consistently inconsistent

On that personal side, the 26-year-old wasn't all that pleased with his play before getting cut down by injury.

He led all Toronto defencemen with three goals and 27 points in 46 games, averaging a team-high 24:15 of ice time per night.

But due to an unspecified physical ailment and some inconsistent performances, there were stretches where he looked like a shadow of the player who set career-highs with 20 goals, 52 assists and 72 points in 2018-19. Those 20 goals were the most among NHL defencemen last season, while the points total ranked third overall and fifth all-time for a Toronto blue-liner.

"There were times where I was good," Rielly said of his 2019-20. "And I think that there were times where I felt that I could have done better.

"That's a bit how we as a team look back at the year."

And even though it was brief, he's thankful to have seen at least a little action after working so hard rehabbing his foot.

"When you're training in the gym and trying to get back to play, you're picturing playing 12, 13 games and playing in playoffs, not playing one (game)," Rielly said. "I'm happy I played one because I think I'd be going crazy if I hadn't played since January."

Sanity in isolation

Rielly flew home to North Vancouver, B.C., after the NHL allowed players to relocate away from their team's cities last month, and is spending time with girlfriend and Olympic figure skating champion Tessa Virtue in self-isolation.

"We're both in it together," said Rielly, who usually loathes to discuss himself in public. "We're trying to keep each other sane and we're doing what we can to do our part and just quarantine ... I'm glad I'm not alone because I think that can be challenging.

"It's important to keep in touch with those people in your life."

Among the many phone conversations he's had since the pandemic changed life as he and the rest of us know it are chats with teammates about a season that may never end — the NHL could return later in the spring or summer, or perhaps not until the 2020-21 campaign in the fall — and process how it played out.

"You reflect and you picture things going differently," Rielly said. "This is a really good opportunity for players to do some thinking."

And hopefully find a solution for whenever the games eventually return.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?