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There’s never a good time to lose Auston Matthews, but right now is about as close as you can get to that

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
It’s my day off from my day job. I slept in and awoke to the news that Auston Matthews is out for three weeks. My initial reaction was that Auston Matthews not going to the All-Star game was about the least surprising development I could expect from the Leafs. However, after that, I reflected on how with Tampa very close behind Toronto in the standings there was still a reason to care about the potential loss of home ice advantage in the first round. It’s not like the Leafs play a lot of game sevens, right?
Anyway, we can all agree that Auston Matthews being out for a minimum of three weeks is a bad thing, but let’s try to find a few silver linings. Auston not going to the All-Star game and wasting his time there is undoubtedly one and it opens the door to the deserving William Nylander to take his place, assuming Willy hasn’t booked his vacation yet (Looks like Barkov will be taking Auston’s place at the All-Star Game, how dare they give local fans what they want). There are definitely more silver linings beyond that, and here are a few.

The friendly schedule

The Leafs play Ottawa tonight. You shouldn’t need Auston Matthews to beat the Ottawa Senators although he does put on a pretty good show against them. In addition to the Senators, over the next three weeks the Leafs face the Blue Jackets twice, the Blackhawks twice, and the Canadiens. The Leafs do have games against the Capitals and Bruins during that time, but the bulk of their schedule is trap games, and there is a strategic advantage to the Bruins not getting a look at the Leafs at their best as well. The Leafs get to push against a Bruins team without Auston, and the Bruins have no idea how they’d match up with a fully healthy Leafs lineup. At least that is the silver lining I’m selling myself on.

Testing center depth

I’ve been banging the drum about how the Leafs need to bring in someone who can play center in the event that either Tavares or Matthews are injured, and now is my chance to be proven right or wrong on this. I’d say that I’d love to be wrong and that some combination of Jarnkrok, Holmberg, Nylander, Engvall, and Kerfoot suffices as a second line alternative, as that approach also lends itself to prioritizing someone like Timo Meier a bit more than someone like Bo Horvat (or god forbid, Ryan O’Reilly) at the trade deadline. There’s also that if the Leafs aren’t going for someone like Meier, the additional top six winger options should be a lot more affordable than the center options on the market.

The benefit of a healthier Auston Matthews

This one seems like a no brainer as Matthews was already dealing with something. A few weeks to let everything get right with Auston isn’t a bad thing and will potentially benefit the Leafs when they need him at his best. That’s not to say other injuries aren’t still possible, this is the Leafs, let’s keep the optimism in check, but if the goal is to set the player and the team up for success, having Auston out in the middle of the season when the Leafs are locked into facing Tampa in the first round and there isn’t a ton of pressure to rush him back for anything sounds like a win.
A potential week four of Auston’s injury would see him miss games against Buffalo, Minnesota, and Seattle. Week five would see him miss the Western Canadian road trip, which I’m sure isn’t a favourite of players, so if Auston isn’t back by week four, I wouldn’t be surprised if week five is also some time off and that takes the Leafs right to the trade deadline.
The best case scenario of three weeks to the day sees Auston miss six games, and the Leafs have 13 games until the trade deadline. Not that injuries care about the trade deadline, but GM’s reacting to injuries do.

A chance to see new and interesting Marlies

The Marlies experiment has gone pretty well this year. Pontus Holmberg has become a Leafs regular, Bobby McMann looks to be doing the same. Joey Anderson is a penalty drawing machine and isn’t a bad bottom six option, and if you ignore what happened with Nick Robertson and the expectations for him this season, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.
The Marlies still have a few fun options for the Leafs to explore and maybe we’ll get to see a few of those players in the coming weeks. Alex Steeves is certainly the name we’ve been throwing around the most on this site as someone who is worth a look, and it’s been nearly a year since we last saw Nick Abruzzese in a Leafs uniform as well. I don’t know whether it is in the Leafs best interest to play them in the NHL or hold them back in the AHL if they are potential trade bait in the next month, but a limited NHL call up could signal to selling teams that these are near NHL ready players they can bring in. Or you know, they could work out really well and the Leafs will have more options. I’m good either way.
The other player that I remain curious about that we haven’t seen this year is Adam Gaudette. Gaudette very much seemed like a potential fourth line option coming into training camp and while the preseason games didn’t go as well as Gaudette would have liked, or the Leafs would have liked for that matter, he could be worth another peak during this three week stretch.
As Nick Barden alluded to earlier this week, it’s likely that we see even players like McMann and Holmberg reassigned to the Marlies over the All-Star break, and Anderson will likely see himself reassigned too. Bringing up Gaudette for a couple of games before the All-Star break and immediately reassigning him after the Boston game barely cuts into his waivers exempt period.
I guess to summarize, losing Auston Matthews for any period of time clearly sucks. And my condolences to everyone that spent hundreds of dollars to see him play and instead will get the potential return of Dryden Hunt. It’s not ideal, but the point remains that if it was going to happen, now is the time and the Leafs can make the best of it.

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