It hasn’t even been five days since Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans heard that the team’s first-line center Auston Matthews had wrist surgery. In the five days since, I’ve been waiting for an update – any news, really. But nothing.
I still haven’t heard much about the surgery – only that it had been successfully completed. I don’t know what wrist was operated on. Nor do I know if it was the same wrist that kept him out of the game action last season.
What I’ve heard is what everyone else has heard; and, that’s not much. On Friday last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Matthews had “undergone successful wrist surgery” earlier in the day. Although there’s been a lot of reporting of the surgery, there’s been little actual news about the facts of that surgery.
In fact, just before I went to write this post I went searching for an up-date on the situation – nothing. There were a number of announcements from different sources, citing the same first announcement. Then it was like the phone went dead.
Trying to Make Sense of the News
Let me share what we know right now, which isn’t really any more than we knew on Saturday when we first read the news. What we do know from the first (and only) reports is that Matthews had been engaged in on-the-ice preseason training and was feeling some “discomfort.” He shared that news with the team’s medical staff; they had a meeting; and, after some consultation surgery was recommended.
No surprise that the time between the decision that surgery was needed and when the surgery actually took place was likely a few seconds; and, with good reason. Given that the healing time was reported to be at least six weeks, no one in the organization wanted to dither. Doing the math, six weeks barely allows Matthews to attend training camp and likely miss none of the regular season. It was quick and needed to be.
If everything goes as planned, Matthews will be on the ice to start the regular season in a home game on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, against the Montreal Canadiens.
Looking Back at the Season, Perhaps Things Make More Sense
When looking back at Matthews’ season, it was clear that he missed a number of games. In fact, head coach Sheldon Keefe reported that changes had to be made to the Maple Leafs’ offense as a result of Matthews’ injury. However, honestly, he was so effective that I have to admit that I really didn’t pay much attention. As far as I could see, he was still the same dynamic scoring machine.
That said, now that I re-read what Keefe said at the time it makes a bit more sense in hindsight. As coach Keefe admitted, he was forced to make adjustments to the team’s offense as a way to help Matthews play while dealing with the injury.
Keefe noted: “We’ve moved him around on the power play as a result of that. He’s looking not as comfortable when he’s shooting, but he’s showing he’s very good in a lot of other areas. It doesn’t seem to affect his ability to handle the puck or pass the puck. … He’s found ways to generate chances and shots, he’s made plays for his linemates. He’s brought a lot of positive things to us.”
What an Amazing Season – Despite the Injured Wrist
During the season, Matthews scored an NHL best of 41 goals, including 12 game-winning goals. His point total included 41 goals and 25 assists (for 66 points) in 52 games. He played big minutes and ranked fifth for NHL forwards with an average of 21:33 TOI. He also played good defense and ranked ninth in the NHL with 47 takeaways.
He started the season on such a goal-scoring streak that many fans believed he was on track to score 50 goals in 50 games. Then he had left wrist problems early in the season. In February, he also jammed his right wrist into the boards. However, it didn’t seem then to be problematic. In fact, the injury seemed to heal on its own.
Matthews missed a number games and had an extended streak of non-scoring (for 10 of 13 games) during mid-season. He scored 20 goals in his last 22 season’s games, but went quiet in the playoffs.
Was Matthews Injured During the Playoffs?
Although it won’t change what happened, I’d like to know if his wrist was injured during the postseason. Specifically, was there any connection between the wrist surgery and his lack of playoff production? In fact, were both of the Maple Leafs’ top-six centers – Matthews and John Tavares – injured during last season’s playoffs?
By the way, we’ll have to take the news that the wrist surgery was successful. Given the absence of updates, there’s no other choice.
If that surgery was successful, is there a chance that a rehabbed Matthews can match his success last season? Can he once again win the Rocket Richard Trophy? Maple Leafs’ fans will also recall that Matthews was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy (awarded annually to the NHL player who’s shown the highest combination of sportsmanship and gentlemanly play with a high standard of on-ice success) and was a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award (presented to the player judged “to be the most outstanding player in the NHL” as voted by the other members of the NHLPA).
But the real question I want to know is this: How healthy was Matthews during the 2020-21 playoffs?
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