TORONTO — Auston Matthews is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but the Toronto Maple Leafs face other uncertainties ahead of their opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 13.
Matthews was expected to be out a minimum of six weeks after he had surgery on his left wrist Aug. 13. The center resumed skating last week but will not participate in the first part of training camp when Toronto takes the ice for the first time Thursday.
“The designation of injured reserve is just that he won’t be a full participant at camp off the start,” Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas said Wednesday. “I think he’s back skating. He’ll get out of the splint, and then as we get rolling here, basically three weeks from tonight is opening night, we’ll have a better indication then. But we have no change to what we expect, and that’s for him to be ready as he said last week.”
Matthews scored 66 points in 52 games last season, including leading the NHL with 41 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy, despite playing much of the season with the wrist injury.
He said last week that he waited after the season to see if the injury would subside rather than have the surgery performed right away. But when it began flaring up again during offseason workouts, he consulted with the Maple Leafs’ medical and training staff, at which time the decision was made to have the surgery.
“Hopefully, I’ll get the splint off and kind of progress into the regular hockey stuff,” Matthews said Wednesday. “Right now, I’ve just been skating and trying to keep up with my cardio and lose the rust a little bit until I can start handling the puck a little bit, hopefully this week sometime.”
Fellow center John Tavares said he was ready to go after he sustained a concussion and knee injury in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Canadiens on May 20.
“Looking forward to getting back at it and the opportunity we have as a team this year,” Tavares said.
Though the Maple Leafs have clarity on the status of Matthews and Tavares, there are plenty of other questions still concerning their roster, both for this season and beyond.
The future of Morgan Rielly, who is entering the final season of a six-year contract he signed April 13, 2016, is among the most pressing. The defenseman has scored 305 points (59 goals, 246 assists) in 572 games and has been an important piece of the Maple Leafs’ back end since being selected with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“Being a Toronto Maple Leaf is something special to me. We’ll see what the future holds,” Rielly said, adding he understands that financial considerations could come into play for either side.
The Maple Leafs learned that lesson firsthand when Zach Hyman, who was an unrestricted free agent, signed a seven-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on July 28. Last season, Hyman scored 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 43 games playing on the top line alongside Matthews and Mitchell Marner.
Among the candidates to replace Hyman in that role are Nick Ritchie, who signed a two-year contract July 31 after scoring 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games with the Boston Bruins last season, and Michael Bunting, who signed a two-year contract July 28 after scoring 13 points (10 goals, three assists) in 21 games with the Arizona Coyotes.
However, coach Sheldon Keefe said there will be an open competition for Hyman’s spot, as well as for the No. 1 goalie position between Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek.
Campbell was 17-3-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in 22 starts for the Maple Leafs last season, splitting time with Frederik Andersen, who signed a two-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on July 28.
Mrazek, who signed a three-year contract July 28, was limited to 12 games with the Hurricanes last season because of thumb surgery, going 6-2-3 with a 2.06 GAA, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts.
There were also questions surrounding the availability of forward William Nylander. The 25-year-old said Wednesday that he is not fully vaccinated because of “a couple of medical things I had to take care of” but that he will be by the beginning of the season.
Current NHL protocols limit the interactions players who are not fully vaccinated can have with vaccinated teammates, and there could also be travel restrictions for those not fully vaccinated, especially in crossing the border between Canada and the United States.