With Victor Hedman likely to miss the All-Star Game, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is the most logical replacement
One of the biggest snubs from the initial 2018 NHL All-Star Game rosters was Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly. He was a victim of being in the same division as Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson, combined with the Detroit Red Wings needing to send Mike Green. It didn’t happen as planned, but this injustice should be fixed.
On Friday, the Lightning announced Hedman will miss the next three to six weeks with a lower-body injury. A three-week absence would have him return in the first week of February, just after the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. So one can logically assume Hedman will not be playing at the event in Tampa.
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There are several possible replacements. Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins is having a heck of a season for a rookie. Mikhail Sergachev has been extremely productive for the Lightning and would be really fun to watch at three-on-three. However, Rielly makes the most sense because he’s arguably the third-best defenseman in the Atlantic Division.
As of Jan. 13, the Maple Leafs blueliner ranks fifth among all defensemen in points, with 31 in 45 games. Everyone above him except John Carlson and Shayne Gostisbehere (also All-Star snubs) were named to the initial All-Star rosters. But there’s one thing really special about Rielly, making him extremely unique – he’s left-handed.
It’s weird. As recently as the 1980’s, almost all of the best defensemen were left-handed. Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin, Brian Leetch, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Bobby Orr are among the roughly 10 percent of humans who aren’t right-handed. The change has been gradual, but entering Jan. 13, 11 defensemen have at least 30 points. Only three of them are left-handed.
More importantly, Rielly’s emerged as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s been asked to do a lot for the Maple Leafs. Toronto might have a questionable blueline, but Rielly is a guy the team doesn’t have to worry about.
Naming Rielly to the All-Star team makes sense off the ice as well. Toronto’s a significant media market. Arguably the strongest one in the NHL. Currently, the Maple Leafs only have Auston Matthews in the All-Star Game. Naming Rielly to the event would likely increase interest in the All-Star Game across Canada, which would help improve the ratings.
The All-Star Game won’t be the same without Hedman, who’s a borderline generational talent. But Rielly would be a very nice replacement. He’s quite deserving, even more so than McAvoy and Sergachev.