Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly suspended 5 games by the NHL for cross-checking the Senators' Ridly Greig

Tue, Feb 13, 2024
NHL News (AP)

Maple Leafs' Morgan Rielly suspended 5 games by the NHL for cross-checking the Senators' Ridly Greig

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly has been suspended five games for cross-checking Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig in the final seconds of the teams' game over the weekend.

The NHL's department of player safety announced the suspension Tuesday after a virtual hearing with Rielly and team and union representatives. It was not held in New York because of snow, but the invitation for an in-person hearing allowed the league to suspend for six or more games.

Rielly took exception to Greig firing a slap shot into an empty net with 5.1 seconds left Saturday night to make it 5-3 Senators. He cross-checked Greig in the head and left shoulder but did not injure the 21-year-old playing his first full professional season.

"This is not a hockey play," the league said in a video explaining the suspension. "This is an intentional, forceful strike to an opponent's head using the stick as a weapon to exact retribution on an opponent well after a goal has been scored."

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As a result of the suspension, Rielly - who had no disciplinary history of fines or suspension in his 11-year NHL career - will forfeit $195,313 in salary.

Because the suspension was under six games, the only appeal is to Commissioner Gary Bettman. Anything longer would have gone to Bettman and then, if requested, to a neutral arbitrator.

Losing Rielly, one of their All-Stars and most valuable players this season, for this stretch is a major blow to the Maple Leafs as they try to hold on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The 29-year-old skates over 24 minutes a game for Toronto, and his contributions in all facets are difficult to replace.

"He's been on fire, obviously an incredible season," Leafs forward William Nylander told reporters after practice Monday. "We have a pretty resilient group, I feel like, so when guys have been out, other guys have stepped up and played, took over that role."

The situation got plenty of folks around hockey talking about everything from the unwritten rules of how to score an empty-net goal to the pros and cons of retribution - especially late in a game.

Veteran forward Andrew Cogliano, talking about Greig and Rielly on Tuesday morning prior to the suspension being handed out, does not think people aren't taking enough of the emotional side of the game into consideration.

"I'm pretty sure if Greig had another opportunity, he wouldn't do that, if I had to guess," said Cogliano, who's in his 17th NHL season and has been with Colorado since 2022. "I think it's something the probably didn't need to happen but heat of the moment and things happen and Rielly took it in his own hands and didn't think it was right for his team. At the end of the day, he might get suspended but maybe it makes their room a little tighter."

Younger Avalanche teammate Bowen Byram didn't mind seeing the situation unfold from afar, especially because Greig was not injured.

"I know Ridley Greig really well," Byram said. "I played hockey with him growing up, so I was texting with him after and he was saying: 'Why did I do that? That was stupid,' or whatever. I kind of like that, honestly. It's an intense game and there's a lot of emotions going on. I don't mind seeing some fireworks like that every once in a while, and I think it's good for the game, as well."

Rielly argued during his hearing that he made contact with Greig's body before striking his opponent's head. The league acknowledged some body contact but said it was still not an acceptable use of a stick in that situation, with the result already determined.

"This is not the case of two players mutually jousting where both players could reasonably expect escalating contact or for both players' sticks to come up high," the league said. "This is also not an inadvertent or accidental use of the stick while leveraging for body position or for other hockey purposes. This play occurs well after the goal has been scored, late in the game with the score out of reach and for the sole purpose of retribution."

The Maple Leafs knew they'd be without Rielly on Tuesday night at home against the Blues. He'll also miss upcoming games against Philadelphia, Anaheim and at St. Louis and Arizona.

"It is what it is," Leafs center Auston Matthews said Monday. "We've got to obviously just pick ourselves up and move forward and put our best foot forward."

Rielly is eligible to return Feb. 22 at Vegas.

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STEPHEN WHYNO DC-based hockey writer covering NHL, Capitals and Commanders twitter mailto "
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