Toronto Maple Leafs’ defenseman Morgan Rielly has struggled recently. Specifically, he made some wrong decisions and forced plays he shouldn’t have. He’s pinched on offense at the wrong time. The result of those actions has allowed odd-man rushes.
So, If This Is True, How to Get Rielly Back on Track?
If Rielly has made mistakes (and I’m not saying he hasn’t), what can the team do to help him get back on track? What kinds of adjustments should be made to the team’s strategy or lineup?
There’s no argument from me that, given Rielly’s large contract and his importance as a key member of the team, he needs to perform at his best. So, what to do? How can the coaching staff and the team as a whole find ways to support Rielly and help him get back on track?
Related: OLD PROF’S BONUS TRIVIA: DO YOU KNOW MAPLE LEAFS’ HISTORY?
Kyper & Bourne Discuss What They Believe Is Morgan Rielly’s Slump
In the video below, Nick Kypreos and Justin Bourne discuss what they see as Rielly’s underwhelming play. They then discuss possible solutions to help break him out of his slump.
Kyper & Bourne Say It’s Time To “Send Rielly a Message?”
According to Kypreos and Bourne, Rielly is struggling. They believe benching him would “send a message” that Rielly and other players must step up and play better.
Kypreos and Bourne believe that, if the Maple Leafs are to be successful, Rielly needs to play like the star player the organization signed to a large, long-term contract. As part of their conversation, they land on the idea of benching Rielly as a way to motivate him to make better decisions. Huh?
Critiquing This Conversation: The Problem with Benching a Star Player
The problem with Kypreos and Bourne’s approach is that it’s simple-minded. Benching a star player to motivate him is a flawed approach because assumes the player is solely responsible for his performance.
Former professional hockey players should know better than to ignore the team implications of such an action. Benching a star player is more likely to be counterproductive and could lead to a range of negative outcomes.
First, the concept of “sending a message” carries with it the underlying assumption that the player just needs to care more. It’s publically calling a player out for not trying or simply not working hard. Does embarrassing Rielly not to make mistakes really logical?
It’s as if benching will teach him to play harder. Even if a player is making a mistake, assuming the problem is that he’s too lazy to play hard or just doesn’t care won’t work. It’s likely to make the problems even worse. Particularly in the case of Rielly.
Who Ever Believed Rielly Isn’t Trying Hard Enough?
Nothing in his history suggests Rielly doesn’t care enough to play hard or needs to be called out to play better. In addition, Rielly’s teammates know he’s working hard. So calling him out and sitting him down not only won’t help him, but it could harm team morale and certainly will impact team performance. It puts the coaching staff and the players on different sides by failing to address underlying issues on the ice.
Conflating a bigger or more complex problem to Rielly being lazy or not caring ignores who he is as a person. A better approach is to coach the entire team to work together toward overcoming on-ice problems as a unified group.
Fostering a positive (we can fix this) and collaborative approach promotes team success more than pointing fingers at one person in the situation.
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 4-3 Win Over Devils
Several Issues Arise When a Coach Tries to “Send a Message”
I can think of several issues that can arise when a coach benches a star player “to send a message.”
First, benching a star player can create a rift in the team, causing resentment and frustration among players. The situation can lead to a loss of team cohesion, confidence, and morale. What happens if other team members begin to believe Rielly is lazy or doesn’t care?
Second, benching a star player will negatively impact a team’s performance, especially if that player is a key contributor to team success. Without the star playing, the skills the star player brings are absent. The team doesn’t perform as well, which results in losing more games. Losing decreases motivation, which also decreases team performance. It’s a downward spiral.
Third, benching a star player assumes the player is solely responsible for his performance. But, hockey is a team game. The entire team factor can’t be ignored. In simple fact, the team helps each other play better. The coaching staff’s role is to work with players to solve problems – because problems are collective. None of that happens if the whole system isn’t called into question and worked on collaboratively.
Fourth, benching a star player to help motivate that player assumes that the player is not sufficiently motivated. It’s just wrong-minded. It’s like yelling at someone until they get smarter.
Fifth, benching a star player can decrease self-confidence and motivation. I’ve heard fans say that NHL players are professionals, by which they meant that they should be able to boo them for the bad plays and mistakes they make on the ice.
That’s fine, I suppose. Maybe it’s not philosophically wrong to be able to boo professionals on the team you care about. But there’s one problem. Booing won’t make the player NOT make mistakes. It will likely result in an increase in the very mistakes the fan was booing.
Sixth, even if (on the odd occasion) benching a player seems to provide a short-term solution to a perceived problem, in the long run, it won’t solve the problem. It won’t address underlying issues that impact the player’s performance.
This approach is ignorant. It assumes benching is the only way to motivate the player. It doesn’t seek to identify and work on problems. Coaching and practice work better than blaming.
Coach Keefe’s Job Is to Play the Player Who’ll Do the Job Best
In summary, benching a star player to motivate him is a flawed approach. If people think it’s old school, then the old school is mistaken.
The job of an NHL coach is to decide which of their players is best at the job that needs to be done. Then they should play that player. Specifically, if coach Keefe has a better player than Rielly, that player should replace Rielly. If not, Keefe’s job is to work to identify and solve any problems the team is facing.
It’s the right way to approach the problem. The coach’s job is to help win games, and taking one of his best players off the ice for long periods will not promote that end. It’s stupid!
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Matthews, Marner & Nylander
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March 9, 2023 at 6:36 am
I’ve been concerned about Reilly for weeks, before he hurt his knee and since he’s been back. And I’ve been saying so in forums like this. You are correct on all fronts OP – benching isn’t any kind of solution that will help. Reilly has become almost a niche player – he’s an exceptional passer out of his end. But the knee injury has affected his mobility and he was never a shooter from the blue line or adequately strong in his own end. This is indeed on Sheldon Keefe. Reilly needs the right partner – not Justin Holl – and his ice time should be adjusted, or normalized in sync with the team’s other defencemen. Reilly plays more than any other player – check the stats. At some point, say when there are eight or 10 games left, and barring injuries, Keefe has to establish some continuity among lines and defensive pairings. It’s not acceptable to be experimenting and tinkering after that point.
March 9, 2023 at 7:11 am
Great article, and dead on. Please forward to John Tortorella.
March 9, 2023 at 10:58 am
You’ve forgotten to mention a hug. Surely Keefe could give him a hug every now & then. Maybe a team hug, that’ll make everybody feel better. Oh if all Leaf fans could be so Woke!
March 9, 2023 at 12:57 pm
Another moronic article by the resident geriatric.
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