The NHL regular season is a long grind. Along the way, every team suffers injuries to key players. This season, the Toronto Maple Leafs injuries have cost them forward Auston Matthews, defencemen Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, and Jake Muzzin as well we goaltender Matt Murray for considerable lengths of time.
However, these injuries could prove beneficial by the time the playoffs start in April. Injuries have given some players a form of load management that will pay dividends. They have given general manager Kyle Dubas a chance to see what he’s got and what he needs ahead of the trade deadline. And they have supplied a healthy dose of adversity which will come in handy.
The Silver Lining of Toronto Maple Leafs Injuries
The latest to join the spend time on the injured list is sniper Auston Matthews. He is out for at least the next three weeks with a knee injury. Some call it injury; some call it load management. This time away from the grind of the regular season will allow him to have more gas in the tank at playoff time.
It will also give Dubas a good indication of the depth at centre. If the Leafs continue to win, he can be confident the team can withstand an injury in the playoffs. If they slide, the team can target the likes of Ryan O’Reilly of the St Louis Blues or Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Having said that, the Maple Leafs are close to the salary cap ceiling, making the acquisition of high-priced rather difficult. However, they possess a first-round pick in 2023 as well as a first and second-round pick in 2024. These assets should be on the table for a team in win-now mode.
On The Defensive
The Maple Leafs injuries on the blue line have resulted in the loss of Rielly, Brodie, and Muzzin. While Muzzin seems unlikely to return this season, Rielly and Brodie are back and finding their games. Their time away should allow them to play a lot of heavy minutes in the playoffs.
The absence of the three veterans has also paid dividends for Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, and Connor Timmins. Liljegren and Sandin have progressed from prospects with upside to reliable top-4 defencemen.
With Justin Holl and Mark Giordano playing well, the top six is in great shape for the playoffs. And now Timmins, who came to the Leafs as a project, can be counted on to fill in when needed.
Between The Pipes
Goaltender Matt Murray arrived in Toronto surrounded by question marks. Can he regain the form that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win two Stanley Cups? Can he stay healthy long enough to be reliable? The first answer is yes but the second is still up in the air.
Having said that, Murray’s injury woes have provided Ilya Samsonov the opportunity to step up. The young Russian netminder has shown he can carry the team for an extended period.
If Murray is healthy, he should be fresh enough to play every other day in a long playoff run. If he goes down again, the team has confidence that Samsonov can do the job.
Mind Over Matter
Lastly, all these Maple Leafs injuries have provided the adversity that all teams must go through to be successful. The team has confidence they can win without Matthews or Rielly or Murray. That will go a long way in surviving the ups and downs of a championship run.
As you can see, out of lemons comes lemonade. While all injuries are short-term setbacks, they can prove to be positives in the playoffs. If the Leafs stay healthy in the playoffs, they will be well-rested for the grind of the playoffs. If they lose a player or two to injury, they are confident they can still win 16 hockey games in two months. Neither the Bruins nor the Lightning have had to deal with such adversity yet this season. Advantage Maple Leafs!
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