Maple Leafs Season Might Hinge on Auston Matthews’ Recovery

On August 13, the Toronto Maple Leafs great young center Auston Matthews underwent surgery on his wrist after feeling discomfort during his training sessions earlier that week.

Since the announcement of that surgery, there’s been virtually no news about the surgery or Matthews’ recovery. Might the wrist injury be more of a problem than Maple Leafs’ fans suspect? In fact, could Matthews’ injury make or break the Maple Leafs’ season?

Matthews Missed a Number of Games Last Season with a Wrist Issue

We’d like to know more about the extent of this injury. Is this the same injury that bothered him at various points during the 2020-21 season? On January 22, Matthews missed a game against the Edmonton Oilers due to what was then listed as that vague “upper-body injury.” 

Related: Maple Leafs Management and Matthews Not at Odds

Matthews also missed back-to-back games February 27 and March 1. This time, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was a bit more to the point when he noted that the injury was due to a wrist injury that he’d been dealing with “virtually all season.”

Matthews then missed one more game on April 15. When Keefe was asked if it was the same wrist injury, he noted that it was “similar but not the same.”

Matthews Has Been Dealing with this Wrist Injury for Quite Some Time

Tracing the missed games and the commentary that went along with it, we think it’s obvious Matthews has been dealing with either one injury or different versions of the same injury from at least January 22, and possibly before.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kurtis Gabriel Fighting for a Roster Spot

After his recent surgery, according to the Maple Leafs the prognosis was that a “minimum” of six weeks would be needed for Matthews to recover.  That leaves two questions unanswered. 

First, if six weeks was a minimum, what’s the maximum? Second, does “recover” mean fully-recovered or just good enough to play. In other words, will the Matthews we see on the ice at the start of the 2021-22 regular season be the 100-percent healed Matthews, or one healed about 90 percent, 80 percent, or even less?  

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

Will there be lingering long-term effects? Will there be any permanent impact on his game?

Goal Scorers Like Matthews Need Good Hands

Because hands are an extremely important part of a hockey player’s anatomy, especially if that player is a center, how will this injury impact Matthews’ ability to score goals. Furthermore, Matthews isn’t really any center; he’s the NHL’s premier goal scorer. We’d like to know more.

As it stands, exactly six weeks from August 13 puts us to September 24. The Maple Leafs’ training camp begins September 22nd. The team’s first exhibition game is September 25, and their first regular-season game drops the puck on October 13 at home against the Montreal Canadiens.

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Will Matthews be ready to go sometime during that time? And, when he does lace on his skates, how close to being himself will he be?

Can the Maple Leafs Count on Matthews’ Hot Start?

Since Matthews burst onto the scene scoring four goals in his very first NHL game, he’s been noted as having a hot hand – not a wonky one – at the start of the season. In his debut season in 2016-17, he scored six goals in his first six games.  

Here’s how Mathews has started each season since his first. In 2017-18, he cranked out 12 goals in 17 games. In 2018-19, he scored at an even higher rate by potting 16 goals in 16 games. In 2019-20, he put in 13 goals in 17 games. And in 2020-21, he scored a remarkable 18 goals in 18 games.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Overall, during his five seasons, Matthews has started those seasons by scoring 65 goals in 74 games. Matthews’ hot starts have fuelled the Maple Leafs to their own hot starts as well. During these past five seasons, the team has posted a won/loss record of 44 wins, 21 losses, and 9 overtime losses. During those 74 games to start the season, that’s a great winning percentage of .635.  

What If Matthews Isn’t Fully Healed at the Start of the Season?

Given the tough Atlantic Conference, could the Maple Leafs be behind the eight ball? With the team moving back to its traditional Atlantic Division this season, getting off to a good start could be crucial to the team’s overall 2021-22 success. A bad start could make it extremely difficult for the team to even make the playoffs. 

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Undergoing a Transformation

As a result, the Maple Leafs might be forced to make a really tough decision at the beginning of the season. Do they play Matthews if he isn’t 100 percent, or do they keep him on the sidelines until he’s fully and completely healed? 

The answer to that question might carry the fate of the Maple Leafs’ 2021-22 season. Let’s hope it’s not a question worth considering at all.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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