Leafs cut Morgan Rielly, Matt Frattin, set 23-man roster

The Toronto Maple Leafs have finalized their 23-man roster, cutting Morgan Rielly and Matt Frattin Friday to trim their roster and set the lineup they’ll likely run with tomorrow in Montreal. (Meanwhile, Tim Connolly cleared waivers, and Dave Nonis says he’ll report to the Toronto Marlies)

The moves aren’t particularly surprising. Frattin is waiver-exempt, and as a player in his scoring peak he barely moved the needle at the NHL-level. He fits better with the Toronto Marlies and as the first-injury call-up for the Leafs. Morgan Rielly will be sent back to junior in Moose Jaw, impressive as he is as an 18-year-old, the reality of the situation is that he’s too chaotic in his own end to benefit the hockey team, and it doesn’t benefit Rielly as a player to play 15 minutes a night of panicky hockey.

Rielly will get his chance some day, but clearly that is not today.

So who is left on the Leafs’ roster? With the cuts of Frattin and Rielly, plus the transactions involving Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly, the Leafs have a lineup that looks something like this:


Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nik Kulemin
James van Riemsdyk – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
David Steckel – Jay McClement – Mike Brown / Colton Orr


Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles – Cody Franson
Mark Fraser / Korbinian Holzer
Mike Komisarek / Mike Kostka

I’m not sure how the third defensive pairing is going to work. I’ve been impressed with Mike Kostka with the Marlies and wonder if he’ll get a chance to play with Jake Gardiner when Gardiner returns from his symptoms-that-may-be-concussion-like-but-it’s-totally-not-a-concussuion.

Who gets sent down to open up space for Gardiner? It would have to be either Kotska, Mark Fraser or Korbinian Holzer. Holzer is the only one of those who is waiver-exempt.

I don’t like the idea of carrying around Colton Orr for the season, but it appears as if he’s going to be a reality this year, enough to neutralize the defensive threat possessed by Jay McClement and David Steckel, whichever is centring the line. Orr, like most goons, is a possession black hole, liable to neutral zone turnovers, clumsy offensive zone possessions, and a total inability to threaten people in his end of the ice. Playing him with two good defensive players is a waste of their skills, but at least they’ll get some work killing penalties that other players in their role won’t get.


You have a lineup, Mr. Carlyle, how do you plan to use it?

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a good puck-possession team. They were the third-worst team in the league at Fenwick Close, a metric that ranks teams by the number of unblocked shots fired at the other teams’ net versus their own. When you’re as poor a club as the Leafs, it’s murder on the offensive players, who don’t get the offensive zone benefits that teams under a better possession club would. That’s why it took Nazem Kadri so long to make it to an NHL opening day roster, likely, is that the extra centreman spot needed to go to somebody who had to take 10 to 12 extremely difficult faceoffs in defensive and penalty-kill situations a night. Monitoring player usage is incredibly important if we want to understand how hockey players produce.

Just as a frame of reference, here are Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone-Start Percentage from Leafs’ centremen last year via Behind the Net:

  QualComp Ozone%
Tyler Bozak 0.340 52.5%
Mikhail Grabovski 0.686 53.0%
Tim Connolly 0.428 49.8%
David Steckel 0.379 38.0%

A QualComp over .500 indicates the player routinely saw ice time against other teams’ second- and first-line players. An Ozone% of under 40% indicates that the player was called upon to take faceoffs in very difficult situations. You can see that Grabovski and Steckel played consistently more difficult minutes than Bozak’s or Connolly’s lines, but Bozak and Connolly didn’t see any significant advantage in competition or Ozone%.

The hope for me is that Steckel and McClement routinely get lined up against teams’ 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines when they start at the offensive end of the ice, and that Grabovski is used primarily against other teams’ top lines. That second Leafs unit is offensively gifted enough to keep up with the guys they’d line up against, especially when you factor in how good defensively you are. I’m glad Carlyle decided to keep Nik Kulemin with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur—he may not be worth a whole lot on the offensive end (particularly if he doesn’t shoot) but he has admirable defensive qualities that could help him work in a shut-down unit.

If they can play those roles effectively, it would open up space for the first line, and Nazem Kadri’s new line, to play hockey in easier minutes than those two lines saw last season. The first line doesn’t need the help, as they were fine offensively last year, but the third line could use an injection. With Connolly, Lombardi, and Joey Crabb out and two recent high NHL picks, Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk in, I like the Leafs chances of icing a more balanced attack this year, but it does depend on making sure they get the easy minutes against the right competition, or their offence could be underwhelming.

Hey, look at that, we’re discussing hockey again. We’ll run out a fuller Leafs’ preview tonight, and, tomorrow morning, squee, a game preview for the Leafs’ tilt against the Habs, the Leafs’ first game action since April 7.

  • LIII1940

    I disagree. The move to cut Reilly is very surprising. Keep in mind that in Anaheim Fowler made the team but here in Toronto Reilly has not outperformed enough to justify a spot (and even a 5 game trial). And this was a line up without Gardiner. This is a terrible reflection on the level of development of Reilly as he is clearly behind his development curve and better step it up or this will like kadri be another terrible Burke draft pick.

    Also Orr over Connolly in making the leafs. LOL. The leafs are gong show.

    • LIII1940

      Are you on glue?
      Rielly not making the big club has zero to do with his development.
      The leafs aren’t willing to lose more depth D men to waivers for rielly to play 5 games.
      never mind the fact that they have a PPG AHL D man in kostka.
      Letting rielly finish out his year in MJ and then joining the marlies for another Calder cup run is by far the smartest move Nonis will make in his tenure as GM.
      Rielly missed almost an entire season last year.
      Also, should there have been a rookie camp, pro camp, plus exibition games, rielly would have got his look. 6 days to prepare for NHL hockey for an 18 year old D man is not enough. And even still the leafs would not be willing to burn a year of his ELC AND lose more players quality depth D on the waiver wire.
      Give your head a shake bud.

  • LIII1940

    I like what you have done here and time will tell how good this team is .

    Its a 48 game schedule, so goaltending is paramount to any success.

    With this in mind I believe the Leafs best chance is to go with Ben Scrivens.

    Especially since Nonis is not going to give away the farm to get an experienced goalie.

    Should Scrivens have a good start and the team can put a modest winning streak together they might just might make that eight spot.

    However, lets hope Jake Gardiners return is quick, we need him. Too bad we could not have acquired Justin Schultz this past summer, wow what a team the oilers have .

    We usually play well in Montreal and I look for us to win Saturday. Come on Grabo ! By the way ? What’s a hab anyway ?