Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews’ Wrist, Olympics, Line & Golf

On Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs went on a bit of a bonding trip to Muskoka, about two hours from Toronto. They put in a tough day of practice at the Gravenhurst Centennial Centre as they prepare for their final preseason game on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. 

Also as part of that trip, the team engaged in some team community-building with a round of golf and a team dinner. By the way, the Maple Leafs’ scramble tournament was won by Auston Matthews and team. But that’s just the beginning of Matthews’ news for the day. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news and rumors emerging about the team’s star center. Specifically, how’s his wrist holding up? Will he be ready for the first game of the 2021-22 regular season? Who will be on his line when the season starts? Finally, what great news did Matthews receive about the Winter Olympic Games? 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In short, Matthews is the center of the Maple Leafs top line. However he’s also the center of the news items and rumors emerging from the team today as the Maple Leafs prepare to move into the regular season. 

Item One: Will Auston Matthews Be Ready to Play During Preseason? 

Matthews was in full-contact mode during practice on Thursday and, as such, was exposing his wonky wrist to some of the rigors of NHL hockey. Still, it was only practice and his own teammates weren’t targeting him on the ice in the ways opponents would target him during a game. 

After practice, the news was sort of good. On one hand, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that Matthews has “had no setbacks (and) continued to push.” 

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Keefe added, “Today’s would have been by far the longest session that he’s had, was there right to the end; I saw him doing a little bit extra himself afterward and getting some extra shots off so all that’s very positive.” 

However, although the plan was still to play Matthews in the October 13 opening game against the Montreal Canadiens, Matthews was less optimistic that he’d see any game action prior to that time. He told reporters that he was “doing well” after Thursday’s practice; however, his comments suggested there was caution when it came to projecting he’d be ready to start next Wednesday’s first regular-season game against a Canadiens’ team without it’s NHL all-star goalie Carey Price. 

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets and Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)

Obviously, the Maple Leafs won’t throw him into a game until he’s completely ready. They don’t want to take a chance that his wrist injury will haunt him again during the season. If he isn’t ready for Saturday’s preseason game, it will be interesting to see if Matthews is fully ready for Wednesday’s regular-season start.

As Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported yesterday, Matthews has both good days and bad days with his wrist. Although he’s no longer wearing the non-contact jersey during practices, Matthews also suggested that he would probably not play during the last game of the preseason on Saturday. His comment, “That might be cutting it a little close.”

Item Two: Matthews Line-mates Seem to Be Set

What we’re pretty clear about now is that, when the regular season does start, Matthews will be skating between Mitch Marner and Nick Ritchie. That threesome will give teams a different look than last season’s top line of Matthews, Marner, and the departed Zach Hyman. Hopefully, it could be just as effective – although in different ways. 

Item Three: Matthews Named to Team USA Olympics in China

Yesterday five countries locked in the first three players of their respective Olympic teams for this winter’s Olympics in Beijing, China. It was no surprise that Matthews was among the three players who were named to Team USA. The others were both from the Chicago Blackhawks – Patrick Kane and Seth Jones. 

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Team Canada locked in Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, and Vegas Golden Knights’ Alex Pietrangelo. That’s great news for the Maple Leafs and their star American center; however, it leaves a couple of other Maple Leafs’ players – forwards John Tavares and Mitch Marner and defenseman Morgan Rielly – in limbo. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As coach Keefe noted, it might be good news for the Maple Leafs if the beginning of the season were also a period when NHL players were auditioning for their own Olympic teams. Given the number of Maple Leafs’ possibilities who could become part of their country’s teams, it might spur the team to a strong start right off the mark.

Item Four: Matthews’ Team Wins the Maple Leafs’ Golf Scramble Tournament

Matthews wrist injury might make him iffy for Saturday night’s preseason game, but it obviously is good enough to play golf. The Maple Leafs’ team made up of Matthews, Jake Muzzin, Ondrej Kase, and Ilya Mikheyev won the team’s scramble golf tournament.

As TSN’s Mark Masters wrote, Matthews reported, “We had a nice crew. It was a full team effort. Mickey is not a huge golfer, but he made some pretty big putts for us.” 

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Probably some Maple Leafs’ fans are critical of such team-building activities and what I’ve heard call a “country-club” atmosphere. However, such off-ice activities really matter to many players. Masters noted that it was really important for newcomers like Kase, who specifically noted that he appreciated the one-on-one time he got with the members of his golf team.

Kase, the 25-year-old Czech native, simply said, “It’s huge for me, especially.” Of Kase, Maple Leafs’ captain Tavares noted, “You can sense he’s feeling more and more like himself.” 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

By the way, those players on the team were those still left standing after the roster cuts. They had dinner together as a team on Thursday night. That team is still shaping up. It means cuts are coming before next Wednesday’s home opener. Some players will still be moved down to the Toronto Marlies.

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Maple Leafs’ fans will find out more about those cuts soon as the final 21 roster spots will be firmed up for opening night.