Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Timmins, & Steeves

After losing their last game, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to bounce back against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. The Blue Jackets currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 15-32-4 (with 34 points in 51 games). 

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The Maple Leafs were beaten handily by the Boston Bruins at home 5-2 on Feb. 1. The Blue Jackets last game was on Jan. 31, and they lost in overtime to the Washington Capitals by a score of 4-3. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news emerging from the team as it prepares for this road/home back-to-back.

Item 1: Auston Matthews Is Skating in Practice

Auston Matthews’ knee was sufficiently healed to allow him to skate before practice yesterday. He was in a non-contact jersey, but he was on the ice. He suffered a sprained knee two weeks ago and was expected to be out for a minimum of three weeks at that time. Yesterday’s skate suggests he might be a bit ahead of schedule. 

If he is, this is a positive development for the team and for Maple Leafs fans. Matthews is a key player for the team, and his return to the ice would be a big boost to the team’s offense. 

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

It’s encouraging that he’s skating again. Still, because he was originally expected to be out at least three weeks, it might be some time before he’s cleared to return to game action. 

Right now, the Maple Leafs will likely be cautious with his recovery and not rush him back too soon. The team pretty much has a postseason spot with its name on it. The only question is whether they will be able to come in second place to retain home-ice advantage. 

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Despite missing the All-Star Game and the team’s last few games, Matthews is having a strong season with 25 goals and 28 assists (for 53 points) in 47 games. With Mitch Marner’s offensive production and William Nylander’s recent hot streak, the Maple Leafs have the scoring to make a long postseason run once they’re healthy. 

Item 2: Conor Timmins Extended on a 2-Year Contract 

The Maple Leafs have liked what they’ve seen with Conor Timmins. News on Feb. 9 was that the two parties had agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $2.2 million (or $1.1 million annually) starting in the 2023-24 campaign. Timmins was acquired by the Maple Leafs from the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 23 and hit the ice skating. He has totaled a goal and 11 assists in 18 games for the Maple Leafs. 

Conor Timmins Toronto Maple Leafs
Conor Timmins, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Timmins has talent but he lacks experience. He’s been a healthy scratch in three of the last four games; however, he’s been effective when he’s played. The two-year extension provides stability for him and gives the Maple Leafs a valued right-shot defender, which is something the team has lacked in the past.

Currently, the future role that Timmins will be expected to play is unknown. However, the contract extension is a commitment that there is – in fact – a role for him. He’s in the Maple Leafs’ future plans.

Item 3: Alex Steeves Was Promoted From the Marlies 

Yesterday, the Maple Leafs recalled Alex Steeves. However, it isn’t clear if he’ll play tonight or whether he’s simply insurance. He made his NHL debut last season (collecting an assist in three games), but he hasn’t yet played in the NHL this season.

With the Marlies, Steeves has been putting up impressive numbers. Thus far, he’s scored 16 goals and added 22 assists (for 38 points) in 44 games. He looks like he could be a solid addition to the Maple Leafs’ lineup in a depth role this season.

Item 4: Matt Murray Placed on Injured Reserve

There is some concern for the Maple Leafs around the health of their goalies. Matt Murray was expected to be a key player for the team in the net. However, yet again he’s injured. Yesterday, he was placed on injured reserve to give him time to fully heal. Hopefully, he’ll be able to return to the ice soon. 

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The question is how the Maple Leafs will respond if Murray isn’t healthy and on his way back by the trade deadline. Maple Leafs fans and hockey pundits suggest that, if he remains injured, the team might be wise to seek a fallback in goal by trading for a veteran goalie. 

Perhaps the answer to that question rests on how well Joseph Woll looks this weekend when he plays in the net. If he struggles, that would make life interesting for the team’s brain trust. Who would step up to fill the void?

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Marner had a fantastic performance during the All-Star Game, which added to his impressive campaign so far. He’s been playing well this season, which is no surprise. 

Mitch Marner John Tavares Timothy Liljegren Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Timothy Liljegren celebrate a goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs have a stretch where they could solidify second place in the Atlantic Division and stake their claim to home-ice advantage. Although the team has had a number of its top players miss game action due to injury, they still have had a strong season so far.

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