'IT'S GO TIME NOW': Addition of Foligno, Rittich excite Leafs
Morgan Rielly had four words of reaction to the two deals the Maple Leafs made Sunday night.
“It’s go time now,” the defenceman Rielly said of adding Nick Foligno and David Rittich and possibly more before Monday’s 3 p.m. NHL playoff deadline passes.
“We have to start working now and get the process down before playoffs.”
The biggest acquisition is burly left winger Foligno, still fresh in the minds of the Toronto room after his previous team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, beat down the Leafs in playoffs last summer.
“He plays hard, he’s a big man, he’s good in the corners, good with the puck and he’s workd hard over his career to build that reputation,” Rielly said. “To add a player like that is a great feeling.”
While general manager Kyle Dubas might not have been done trading, him making the huge investment in the newcomers that cost the Leafs four high draft picks, now puts onus on the incumbent Leafs to get out of the first round for the first time in four tries.
“As players, we have to take that as a big responsibility,” Rielly said. “If you look at our group we have and the results this year (comfortably in first place in the North Division), there’s an opportunity for us to play good hockey (in May). The players know that.”
Foligno, John Tavares, Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza give the Leafs four former captains of other clubs, adding to a leadership group of Wayne Simmonds, Jake Muzzin and alternate captain Rielly.
“We add pieces like that, it makes everyone feel great about it,” Rielly said. “Lots of guys in our room would be leaders around the league. That’s an important aspect of what we have here and we keep adding to it.”
Tavares spoke of the “intangibles” Foligno brings.
“The teams he’s played on in Columbus have a real strong identity, really believe in what they do and don’t really worry about trying to be something else.
“I’m looking forward to learning from him, leaning on him. We have to wait a couple of days for him, but it really bolsters our group up front.”
Head coach Sheldon Keefe will not have Foligno for seven to 10 days, the first week under the required Canadian government quarantine, then likely a few days of practice, taking the Leafs to the end of next week against Winnipeg.
“He’s one of those guys who does whatever it takes to win,” Keefe said. “He’s versatile, can play anywhere in the lineup, any way you want to play it. He just checks so many boxes. I definitely have a plan (for him), but I won’t talk about it yet.”
On Monday, the Leafs added Nick Robertson and Timothy Liljegren to the taxi squad from the AHL Marlies, then Keefe announced Robertson would be plugged right into Alex Barabanov’s spot Monday night in Montreal, taking more advantage of experimental time while William Nylander is under quarantine a few more days.
Rittich, who doesn’t require isolation as he’s coming from the Calgary Flames, will be available for Tuesday against his old team in Toronto, but Keefe had yet to speak to him regarding splitting the back-to-back with Jack Campbell. One thing Keefe does know about the veteran Czech?
“He definitely plays very well against the Leafs (a win and two close losses this year). Our players have a strong impression of him.”
The Leafs had set up as smaller than usual war room at their Montreal hotel with Dubas, assistant Brandon Pridham, Keefe and some scouting staff.
“I’m just a fly on the wall,” Keefe joked.