Maple Leafs News & Rumors: October Highlights, Matthews & New Hires

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look forward to the start of the regular season – less than two months away – and will suggest two October regular-season games fans might want to put on their calendars. 

Second, with no other logic except tracking backwards from Auston Matthews’ recent wrist surgery over the entire 2020-21 season and piecing together some possibilities, I’ll wonder how long Matthews’ wrist has been injured and whether there’s a chance he might have been playing hurt during the 2020-21 postseason loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Related: Maple Leafs News: All-Decade Team, Kapanen, Marner, Matthews

Finally, I share news of some new hires in the Maple Leafs’ hockey operations organizational structure.

Item One: Looking Forward to Some Big October Regular-Season Games

October is fast approaching and the Maple Leafs’ first game will be at home against the Montreal Canadiens on October 13. The game will be a rematch of the 2021 first-round playoff series. Fans need no reminder that the Canadiens came back from a 3-1 game deficit to beat the Maple Leafs in seven games. I’d love to see John Tavares score a couple of goals.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Starting Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell played well, but his teammates couldn’t score the winning goal in the playoffs.
(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Another game I’m looking forward to is on October 25 when the team plays the Hurricanes on the road. I keep remembering former Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock refusing to play Jason Spezza in his Maple Leafs’ home opener against his former Ottawa Senators’ team.

Fortunately, current head coach Sheldon Keefe seems to share none of the same characteristics. As a result, I’m looking forward to seeing former Maple Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen going against former Hurricanes’ goalie Petr Mrazek. Both goalies should have some adrenaline pumping on this one. It should be an interesting game.  

Item Two: How Long Has Auston Matthews’ Wrist Been Injured?

I think it’s odd when the team’s best player has a sudden surgery and then things go silent. When I looked around for an update on Auston Matthews’ wrist surgery, there was none I could find. All I found was the announcement and then a number of hockey writers sharing that same announcement (below). Nothing since.

What’s that deal, really? I’d like to hear the team give regular updates, and I’d like to see a Matthews’ interview where he answered some questions – not as in a grilling but in a sort of how are you doing? Nada. It makes me have two thoughts. Thought one: Matthews had an amazing season – injury or not. Thought two: how long into the season was Matthews injured? 

Matthews could hardly have had a better season. He scored an NHL leading 41 goals, 12 of which were game-winners. He added 25 assists for a point total of 66 points in 52 games. He ranked fifth for NHL forwards for average TOI with 21:33 – something that needs to change I believe. 

Related: Jaromír Jágr’s Belief in Legacy & Responsibility Keeps Him On the Ice

Still, in the middle of the season, when one or the other of his wrists were nagging him, head coach Sheldon Keefe reported that changes had been made to the Maple Leafs’ offense to accommodate Matthews’ injury. At the time, because Matthews continued to be effective, I really didn’t pay much attention. After a bit of a hiccup, he seemed like the same scoring machine he’d been.

Specifically, head coach Keefe reported: “We’ve moved him around on the power play as a result of that (the wrist injury). He’s looking not as comfortable when he’s shooting, but he’s showing he’s very good in a lot of other areas. It doesn’t seem to affect his ability to handle the puck or pass the puck. … He’s found ways to generate chances and shots, he’s made plays for his line-mates. He’s brought a lot of positive things to us.”

Auston Matthews John Tavares
Were both Maple Leafs’ top-line centers (Auston Matthews and John Tavares) injured in the playoffs?

Now, I wonder if both Matthews and Tavares were injured during the playoffs. Obviously, it won’t change history, but if his wrist were injured during the postseason and the team kept it quiet to keep the metaphorical target off his “back,” that puts a different spin on his lack of postseason production. He seemed a shadow of the player who was the runaway winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy. 

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I have to admit I have no evidence that any of what I’m hinting at is accurate, except that – when looking back – there’s some logic to be had theorizing about a possible connection between his wrist surgery and lack of playoff production. Because, if both Maple Leafs’ top-six centers were injured during last season’s playoffs, that’s a steep hill for any team to climb.

By the way, we’ll just have to accept the news that the wrist surgery was successful – even given an absence of updates. We’ll also have to believe Matthews’ wrist was just fine during the 2020-21 playoffs – especially given an absence of updates.

Item Three: Changes in the Front Office

Last week, the Maple Leafs announced changes to the team’s hockey operations organizational structure. Wes Clark, who served as Assistant Director of Player Personnel, will also become the team’s Director of Amateur Scouting. Clark was first hired by the Maple Leafs in June 2018 after two seasons as a scout with the Florida Panthers. However, he’d previously been a Scout and Player Evaluation Consultant with the Maple Leafs from 2014 to 2016. 

Related: Alexander Mogilny: The Great Russian Enigma

Eric Joyce adds the role of Director of Pro Scouting to his resume. He had first come to the organization in October 2020 as the Director of Hockey Strategy after spending seven seasons also with the Panthers.

I was going to suggest that Joe Thornton’s signing with the Panthers had something to do with these moves, but that would be incorrect. Still, I do wish all three good luck in their new positions.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Yesterday’s post on Morgan Rielly really seemed to hit a chord with readers. I spent quite a while reading the posts and responding to some – but, mostly reading. There’s many differing opinions among readers about what to do about Rielly. 

Related: Maple Leafs in a Tough Spot with Defenseman Morgan Rielly

I’m thinking of spending some time mining the conversation section at the end of the post and writing a post to spell out differing opinions with some of the most interesting comments. If you haven’t read the post and want to weigh in, take a look at it. Thanks.

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