Morgan Rielly

Flames land NCAA free agent Connor Mackey, Colton Poolman, Morning Skate
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PHT Morning Skate: Flames land top NCAA free agent; Rielly wins in transition

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Flames recently signed two NCAA players to bolster their defense: Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman. Frank Seravalli goes into detail on the Flames’ “two-year pursuit” of Mackey. Seravalli deemed Mackey the No. 1 NCAA free agent available this spring, making Mackey quite the get for the Flames. (TSN)

• Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke with Mark Spector about resolving the situation with Jesse Puljujarvi, which will be a challenge whenever there’s an actual chance to address it. In that same piece, Ken Hitchcock praised Puljujarvi as at least a useful third-line type player, while admitting he isn’t sure Puljujarvi will end up being more than that. (Sportsnet)

• Lou Lamoriello answered fan questions on the Islanders website, which meant a lot of Lou-like non-answers, sometimes comically so. (Yes, he even briefly discussed his fascination with lower jersey numbers.) Later on Sunday, we’ll ponder Lamoriello saying the Islanders would match a Mathew Barzal offer sheet. There’s other noteworthy information, though. The Islanders expect Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas back if play resumes this season/playoffs, while Adam Pelech should be ready for training camp before 2020-21. (Islanders)

• Could the Penguins actually keep their first-round pick from the Jason Zucker trade if the season isn’t completed? Pensburgh goes over that, and in doing so, lays out some of the tricky questions the NHL would face if COVID-19 forces more than just a pause for 2019-20. (Pensburgh)

• Helene St. James hands out best and worst awards for the Red Wings. In doing so, St. James posits that Justin Abdelkader will be waived and sent to the AHL in 2020-21. (Detroit Free-Press)

• Steve Simmons went looking for a phone number in an old phonebook, and found himself pausing to remember several names from the past. (Steve Simmons)

• How Malcolm Subban and Brendan Perlini could make strange history for the Blackhawks. Could Subban end up having the shortest “career” with the Blackhawks ever? (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Andrew Berkshire takes a look at defensemen who excel at that transition game, with Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leading the pack. (Sportsnet)

• Fun 2020 NHL Draft angle from McKeen’s Hockey: the most polarizing prospect from each region, starting with Antonio Stranges in the OHL. (McKeen’s Hockey)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs should get boost with Morgan Rielly return

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Some much needed good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Top defenseman Morgan Rielly will be back in the lineup for their massive game against the Tampa Bay Lightning after he missed the past two months due to a broken foot.

Rielly last appeared in a game for the Maple Leafs back on January 12 when he was injured in a brutal 8-4 loss to the Florida Panthers.

The Maple Leafs went 11-9-3 in his absence and enter Tuesday’s game riding a three-game losing streak.

That run came after they had rapidly improved under new coach Sheldon Keefe, going 15-6-2 in the 23 games that preceded Rielly’s absence.

While his overall offensive production has regressed from the 20-goal, 72-point performance he had a year ago, Rielly is still the Maple Leafs’ best all-around defenseman and a huge part of the team’s offense when he’s in the lineup. He plays big minutes on the power play, is their best puck-mover, and their most productive blueliner.

He is also a regular on the team’s penalty kill. They don’t have another defenseman capable of filling his role when he is not there.

The Maple Leafs are just one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference entering play on Tuesday.

Related: Push for the Playoffs: pressure is on Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Limping Maple Leafs lose Andreas Johnsson for two months

Maple Leafs lose Andreas Johnsson for eight weeks knee surgery
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Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe announced that Andreas Johnsson will need knee surgery. Johnsson is expected to miss at least two months, canceling him out for the Leafs’ playoff push. That recovery window would bleed into at least a part of the postseason, too.

Johnsson the latest to leave Leafs limping

It’s jarring news for a Maple Leafs team that’s in tough to defend its spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has already dealt with significant injuries this season.

TSN’s Kristen Shilton ranked among those passing along the bad news, also noting that Morgan Rielly is targeting late March for a possible return. Between those two, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Frederik Andersen, and others, it’s already been a trying season for Toronto.

Johnsson hasn’t enjoyed the same bounces in 2019-20 as he did last season. After managing 20 goals and 43 points on a 15.4 shooting percentage, Johnsson settled down to eight goals and 21 points (43 GP) on a 10.3 shooting percentage. Bill Comeau’s nifty-looking SKATR charts provide a snapshot of some of the areas where things slipped.

Maple Leafs Johnsson 2018-19 vs. 2019-20

The Maple Leafs currently sit in playoff position. More and more, it looks like it might come down to either the Panthers or Maple Leafs grabbing the Atlantic third seed, while Metro teams seem most likely to nab both East wild-card spots.

Maple Leafs Johnsson Atlantic standings

(The Blue Jackets and Flyers both have 71 points in the same 58 games played as Toronto. Carolina poses a similar threat with 67 points in 56 GP.)

Potential (small) silver lining for Leafs without Johnsson

There’s only so much sugar-coating one can provide for this situation. That said, at least Toronto lost Johnsson now, instead of after the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston explains that the Maple Leafs would get $3.4M in cap space to work with if Johnsson goes on LTIR, while Rielly likely wouldn’t provide the same breathing room because he may return before the season ends.

In other words, the Maple Leafs have more room to trade for talent — whether that means finding a replacement for Johnsson, or addressing other needs, such as defense.

So, if the Maple Leafs do hold off the Panthers (or carve out a wild-card spot), they could have [insert hypothetical replacement] and Johnsson for the playoffs. Of course, that’s assuming Johnsson heals up somewhere in that eight-week-window.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames’ Giordano out at least a week with hamstring injury

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The Calgary Flames issued an update on the status of injured defenseman Mark Giordano on Thursday. While it is not necessarily great news, it is at least better than it was initially feared.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner will be sidelined for at least a week due to a hamstring injury that he suffered on Tuesday night in the Flames’ loss to the San Jose Sharks.

What is concerning for the Flames, though, is that they have a couple of huge games over the next week. That includes Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators and Saturday’s game against the first place Vancouver Canucks. The Flames enter play on Thursday in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference but are just two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks.

They only have a three-point cushion over Nashville, while the Predators still have two games in hand. That makes Thursday’s game absolutely massive in the playoff race.

Giordano’s offensive numbers have declined this season, but he remains the Flames’ most impactful defensive player.

Other notable injury news around the NHL

• The Montreal Canadiens announced on Thursday that Shea Weber has been placed on injured reserve due to a lower-body injury and will be sidelined for at least a week. When healthy Weber has still be an outstanding player for the Canadiens, but injuries have really sidetracked him for the past few years.

• Already playing without Morgan Rielly, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Thursday that defenseman Cody Ceci will be out “for a while” due to an ankle injury.

• In Philadelphia, the Flyers are getting one of their defenseman back in the lineup as Shayne Gostisbehere will make his return on Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. Gostisbehere had been sidelined for the past month due to injury. With Gostisbehere returning, Robert Hagg will be out of the lineup.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs’ defense gets some help with Muzzin return

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Finally some good news for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ defense.

The team announced on Monday that it has activated defenseman Jake Muzzin from injured reserve ahead of their game against the Nashville Predators.

Muzzin, 31, has not played since Dec. 27 due to a foot injury.

He is one of the Maple Leafs’ best defensive players, and it is not a coincidence that the team struggled in his absence, winning just four of the 10 games. When combined with the recent injury to Morgan Rielly it left the Maple Leafs without two of their top-three defensemen. That is going to be a problem for any team, but especially one that is already lacking defensively even when it is fully healthy.

Muzzin is one of the 10 players we identified as being able to play a big role in the second half playoff race.

His return comes at a pretty good time for a Maple Leafs team that still has a lot of work to do in the second half if it is going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even with their improved play under new coach Sheldon Keefe (the league’s sixth-best record since Keefe took over) they still enter Monday’s game four points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They do have a little bit of an opportunity to make some noise over the next couple of weeks as only four of the next 11 games come against teams currently in a playoff position. One of those games is against the Florida Panthers, the team directly above them in the Atlantic Division standings.

The Maple Leafs acquired Muzzin exactly one year ago from the Los Angeles Kings. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, but said on Monday he would love to re-sign with the Maple Leafs.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.