Late in October, the Toronto Maple Leafs triumphed over the Winnipeg Jets for the second time in a back-to-back series. Though the Maple Leafs won the possible four points from two games, they lost a significant piece of their arsenal. Auston Matthews would leave the game early in the second period with an upper-body injury that would keep him out of the lineup for a minimum of four weeks.
The Maple Leafs had plenty of momentum to start the season. Until the game in question, the Toronto hockey club won seven out of ten games played for a winning percentage (W%) of 70%. This success could be attributed to factors such as the addition of John Tavares, a more developed offensive core and of course the return of centreman Auston Matthews. However, on Oct. 27 Leafs nation cringed as number 34 left the game hunched over after receiving a hit from the Jets’ Jacob Trouba.
Not even four weeks since his injury, Matthews is speaking about returning to the Maple Leafs lineup as early as their home game against the San Jose Sharks next week. Coach Mike Babcock says there is no specified timeline for the Maple Leafs star to return, but the yankee centreman has said he is ready for a full contact practice. “Definitely want to get into at least one practice where it’s kind of full go and I’m bumping into guys and making sure everything’s stable,” Matthews told TSN’s Mark Masters.
The question plaguing the hockey world is: Is it too soon for Auston Matthews to return? Considering the Maple Leafs’ performance without their capstone player and the club’s history of rushing players back from injury, it seems that he should hold-off on returning to the lineup until he is at full strength.
Maple Leafs’ Performance Without Matthews
Since his departure from the lineup, the Maple Leafs have gone 7-4-0. This includes the club’s first ever 3-0 west coast trip against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks. The Maple Leafs have shown their depth and durability against formidable competition and distractions such as the William Nylander situation.
In light of Matthews’ injury, his teammates have done a fantastic job of stepping their respective games up to the next level. Tavares has filled the net with another seven goals and added six assists through Matthews’ absence, Mitch Marner has registered 13 points, and defenceman Morgan Rielly remains consistent with his point contributions through this time.
The Maple Leafs current lineup is capable of generating offensive chances in order to win games. At the same time, the team’s players are realizing their potential by exceeding expectations without their top centreman. Perhaps the Maple Leafs won’t be able to keep this up forever, but for the time being it has sufficed and continues to deliver results. This should allot Matthews the time needed to return well rested and 100% healthy.
Maple Leafs Players Back Too Soon
On Nov. 2, 2013, former Maple Leafs centre Dave Bolland would suffer a severed tendon from Zack Kassian against the Vancouver Canucks. Sustaining this type of injury would beg the question if he would ever be able to perform at this calibre of hockey again.
Bolland won two Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and 2013. He was brought to the Maple Leafs to strengthen their centre roster, aid in defensive zone on the breakout, and mentor the team on what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. Just after a month as a Maple Leaf, Bolland’s injury would come at a terrible time for the club, as former Maple Leafs’ centre Tyler Bozak was out with a less significant hamstring injury. Head coach Randy Carlyle was left to improvise with his lineup.
Bolland would return to the Maple Leafs lineup four months later despite re-injury in practices and a longer projected timeline to return. Based on the circumstances, many begun to wonder what prompted such an early comeback. As it would turn out, increased pressure from the coaching staff behind the scenes would lead to Bolland returning to the line up sooner than what was recommended. Upon his return, he produced a dismal two points for the remainder of the season. A number significantly lower than the ten points he generated in 15 games before the injury took place.
Currently, Bolland is property of the Arizona Coyotes but hasn’t played since 2016. Still plagued by the ankle injury, he only managed to play 25 games in his last season of professional hockey.
It seems the past and present are sending the hockey world signals not to rush players back before they are 100% ready. For now the Maple Leafs sit fourth in the league standings without their top centreman and continue to progress as a unit. Matthews needs to be healthy upon his return to further his team’s efforts this season and not repeat the past of a career-impacting injury.
Ryan regularly covers the Toronto Maple Leafs here at The Hockey Writers. His experience in hockey operations at the NHL level provide a unique aspect to his content. Ryan currently serves as the Head GTHL Scout for TheScout.ca in Toronto in addition to contributing to THW.