On the latest MLHS podcast, Anthony Petrielli and Nick Ashbourne discussed Gary Bettman affirming Morgan Rielly’s five-game suspension and how the Leafs organization should handle their response.

Nick Ashbourne: The remaining game of Morgan Rielly’s suspension is against the Coyotes, so in theory, you should be able to win the game without Rielly. The suspension was a bit heavy in the first place. When the league is letting an appeal succeed, they are kind of admitting fault and that the wrong suspension was handed out. They clearly don’t love doing that.

Anthony Petrielli: You have to laugh — and the league is a joke — but I wasn’t expecting much different. The appeal was on Friday, and it took them until Tuesday at noon to make the decision. What were they thinking about for the past 3-4 days?

Nick: It is probably part of it, right? They can drag it on so that when the decision comes on, it feels inconsequential anyway, so there is not going to be a further news cycle about this controversy. If Bettman had done it after one game of the suspension and then announced they were upholding the suspension, there would be a whole other news cycle about the league doubling down on it. Now, people shrug.

It isn’t the way they should go about it, but if I am doing a PR strategy for the NHL, it is probably the way I would do it.

Anthony: If I was doing PR for the Leafs, I would come and thank the league for the appeal process and then end with a line something along the lines of, “We look forward to the league enforcing this new, consistent standard moving forward.”

That is ultimately why it is a joke. Rielly did skate across the ice and cross-check Greig up high. He is going to get suspended for it. It is after the whistle. I understand why he did it — and I have no problems with why he did it — but you are going to get suspended for it. Fair enough. Rielly knows it, too, and was the first one to own it based on Gary Bettman’s statement. As we said at the time, he probably should’ve just fought him instead.

But it is not consistent with the calls or lack of calls that have been made throughout the league. A lot of people will look at it and sweep it under the rug, but I would already be starting my playoff gamesmanship right now if I were the Leafs.

Take this as an opportunity to signify that it is a joke and it is always the Leafs taking the brunt of it. If it was LA vs. San Jose, nothing happens — maybe a one-game suspension. You have to put it back on the league. You took their serve, and now you have to serve back and put them on notice. This happens in every sport where teams are constantly working the officiating system.

The standard is ridiculous based on all of the attention the Leafs receive. They have so far laid down and taken it. Some people will say, “You don’t know what is happening behind closed doors,” but do you think that is how you get things done effectively — by privately pulling Gary Bettman aside and telling him it is unfair?

They need the media. They need the fan push. If you want to talk PR, that is PR. It is not pulling people over behind closed doors and criticizing the process. You have to actively make it a known issue publicly.

The Leafs want to stay away from it all — and I get it — but it has gone on too long. Here we are.

Nick: Gary Bettman and the NHL don’t want to be embarrassed. If you go behind closed doors and tell him, “Get real, Gary,” he will forget that conversation ever happened. But Toronto is the biggest media market in the NHL. They can use the lever available to them and create a perception that the Leafs have been victimized on this, which the numbers quantify in terms of the suspensions against the Leafs vs. other teams. It’s not rocket science.

Put those numbers out there so that next time the NHL is handing down a suspension, they have to fear that it is going to appear to be part of this established narrative.

We have said in the past that the league might be worried about looking biased in the Leafs’ favour. If the organization fans the flame of the narrative that the league is against the Leafs, maybe they will be afraid of looking as though they are biased against the Leafs the next time they make a decision.

That is the best they can do. It is ultimately out of their control — they can’t change the rulings and make it consistent; it is not a realistic goal — but if they can change the perception towards there being an anti-Leaf basis at work, there is a chance they will see better outcomes. The league won’t want to feed the perception.

Anthony: Brad Treliving was supposed to speak last week, but Rielly appealed the suspension, which is presumably why it was canceled. I hope that he still plans on speaking.

Further Listening

In this week’s MLHS Podcast, Nick Ashbourne and Anthony Petrielli discuss the Maple Leafs’ four-game winning streak, recent lineup developments, the team’s 18-2-1 record without Morgan Rielly, Gary Bettman upholding Rielly’s five-game suspension, and reflections on Brad Treliving’s first nine months as Leafs GM as we approach the trade deadline.