Giants stunned as captain Riley opts to pursue a new challenge
The Belfast Giants have been rocked by the news that club captain Blair Riley will not be returning to the Elite League champions next season.
The Giants announced yesterday that the 33-year-old Canadian has accepted an offer from another team and has opted out of the second year of his current two-year deal at the SSE Arena.
Having already lost veteran forward and franchise legend Colin Shields to retirement, with Dustin Johner and Jonathan Ferland joining him in hanging up the skates, Riley's departure is a hammer blow for head coach Adam Keefe as he aims to put together the roster for next season.
"The Belfast Giants would like to thank Blair for his service to the organisation over three seasons," read the team's statement.
Having joined from AHL side Stockton Heat in 2016, Riley was good for 88 goals and 230 points in 211 games, constantly performing as a top-six forward in his three years in Belfast.
The British Columbia native became skipper when incumbent Keefe took over as head coach at the start of the 2017-18 season and captained the Giants to Challenge Cup success, their first trophy since 2014.
Riley then followed that up with a 38-goal season this year, which also yielded 86 points, as the Giants swept all before them in defending their Challenge Cup crown and adding the Elite League title as well, missing out on a domestic clean sweep of trophies by losing the play-off final to the Cardiff Devils.
With top scorer Darcy Murphy expected to get a move elsewhere, line-mate David Rutherford having already announced his departure from the team and Shields, Ferland and Johner having retired, the Giants' forward stocks are likely to look significantly different next season.
Popular mid-season signing Jordan Smotherman is expected to return, as is British winger Lewis Hook, but the Giants are set for a major rebuild in the off-season after their stunning success this campaign.