Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Nylander, Matthews & Liljegren

The Toronto Maple Leafs got more bad news – although it’s not clear how bad – when word surfaced that leading scorer Auston Matthews would not make the All-Star game because of a nagging wrist injury. The team doesn’t need another injury to worry about. We’ll see if the problem is long-term or not soon enough, but it isn’t a happy situation.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Rasmus Sandin Has Little Choice But to Become a Star

As Maple Leafs fans wait to see how Matthews’ injury plays out, in this post I’d like to help you stay up-to-date with the news and rumors happening within the organization.

Item One: Tavares Opens up About a Number of Issues

On Jan. 21, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox sat down with John Tavares for an extended after-practice interview. He asked the Maple Leafs captain a variety of questions, some a bit more personal. It’s a good read. I encourage readers to follow the link and take a look.

Here’s a small taste of what Fox and Tavares talked about: Fox asked Tavares, “Who have you clicked with here, on this team?” Tavares answered that he especially got along well with “Mitchy (Marner) and Zach (Hyman).” He continued, “We’re just different personalities, but sometimes that kind of attracts. I go to dinner a lot with Zach.”

Tavares Marner Hyman
Tavares with friends Marner and Hyman. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Tavares also said he hung out with “Willie” (Nylander). He noted, “Willie’s a very competitive person, but he’s also a lot of fun to be around. We go for dinner a lot and hang out on the road.”

Related: Jake Muzzin’s Health Is Key to Maple Leafs’ Success

Later in the interview, Fox asked Tavares, Is Willie misunderstood?” Tavares responded: “I don’t know, because I don’t read or listen to a lot. He’s very competitive, and he’s very knowledgeable in the game. To me, he’s still growing and learning and continuing to find how he can get better. And I think he’s very driven. He wants to be a great player and make a difference every night and be counted on and help this team be successful.”

I find this personal side of hockey quite interesting. Another snippet of information was Tavares’ comments about Frederik Gauthier, whose nickname is “The Goat.”

Tavares said: “I call him the most interesting Maple Leaf. He’s awesome. … He’s just a quirky guy that’s very interesting and just a really good person. I think he plays a really good role for us. It’s not always seen or talked about a lot, but just a lot of consistency with him and just the way he carries himself and his professionalism.”

Again, it’s worth the read.

Item Two: Tavares Takes His Role of Captain Seriously

For those who, like myself, are interested in both the on-ice product and the off-ice life of the players, it’s good to hear stories that reveal their personalities. I also read in a Sportsnet post a story that reveals Tavares’ qualities as a captain.

Earlier in the season, when Rasmus Sandin was sent down to the Toronto Marlies after a short stint with the Maple Leafs, Tavares sent him this text: “You’ll be back here soon. If you ever need anything, let me know.”

Toronto Maple Leafs Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Sandin has many fans both inside and outside the dressing room because he’s going to be a Maple Leafs star – sooner or later. Still, if you’re a 19-year-old who wants to feel part of an NHL team, getting a text from the captain goes a long way to making you feel you belong. Perhaps it worked, when Sandin returned to the team he looked more comfortable.

Nicely done, Captain Tavares.

Item Three: More About Matthews’ Wrist Injury

As noted, a prior “unreported wrist condition” will sideline the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer from on-ice activity during this weekend’s All-Star festivities in St. Louis. That means Matthews won’t be entering the skills competition or the 3-on-3 tournament where he would have played with Marner and goaltender Frederik Andersen as part of the Atlantic Division’s representation. It’s too bad because I wanted to see who is the better sniper.

Matthews’ agent Judd Moldaver told TSN’s Darren Dreger that the wrist problem persisted for at least the past three weeks and a mutual decision was made to rest it. Here’s hoping that Matthews, who would’ve been taking part in his fourth straight All-Star Game, won’t miss a game. He’s listed day-to-day and might be ready for the team’s next road game on Monday against the Nashville Predators.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Backup Goalie ‘Situation’ Simply Doesn’t Matter Much

A bad break (no pun here) for Matthews turned into an honor for young Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators, who was named as Matthews’ All-Star replacement. The 20-year-old Tkachuk is coming into his own with the rebuilding Senators and has fast-emerged as a team leader. This season, Tkachuk has 15 goals and 27 points in 48 games. He would score more on a team with a stronger offense.

Item Four: Liljegren Becomes the Maple Leafs’ 1,000th Man

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t always been called the Maple Leafs. In the team’s history, they’ve also been the Blueshirts, the Arenas, and the St. Patricks. Toronto’s an old and storied franchise, however, a milestone was reached when 20-year-old Timothy Liljegren skated against the Chicago Blackhawks in Sunday’s game.

Liljegren became the 1,000th player to play for the franchise, according to the NHL’s count. Within their history, the team has seen 898 skaters and 102 goalies play throughout its 103 seasons.

Ron Ellis, who played more than a thousand games only with the Maple Leafs said, “It will be an honor (for Liljegren) and I hope he plays a long time. My old friend Johnny Bower used to say it’s a privilege to be a Leaf,” (from “How the Leafs franchise became NHL’s first to 1,000 players,” Lance Hornby, The Toronto Sun, 01/21/20).

Item Five: Muzzin Assigned to the Marlies for Conditioning

Jake Muzzin is on the mend. Early on Thursday morning Jan. 23, the Maple Leafs announced that he has been assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies, for conditioning. The 30-year-old defenseman broke his foot blocking a shot at the end of December and hasn’t seen the ice since. This season, Muzzin has scored three goals and 10 assists in 38 games.

What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?

Obviously, it’ll be good to see how well Marner and Andersen represent the team during the All-Star festivities. However, it might be more telling how Matthews and Muzzin return from their injuries.

Related: 5 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ 6-2 Loss to Blackhawks

We know Morgan Rielly will remain out for another two months or so, and the team’s replacements must come through if the team is going to move back into the playoff race. The time seems ripe for the Maple Leafs to start another winning streak.