In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share news and comment about Auston Matthews’ wrist injury. Second, I’ll share a recent video from “The Maple Leafs’ Lounge” that speaks about replacing Zach Hyman and talk about one aspect of the kind of player who can help replace him with Maple Leafs’ fans. 

Item One: Auston Matthews Hopes to Be Ready for Season’s Opener 

During the NHL Player Media Tour on Monday, Auston Matthews was asked about his wrist surgery. During the interview, he shared that he had waited after the season to see if the injury would subside rather than seeking to have surgery performed right away. And, things seemed fine until he began his preparation for the season and the wrist began “flaring up again during offseason workouts.” At that point he consulted with the Maple Leafs’ medical and training staff and the decision was made to have the surgery. 

All this leaves Matthews hoping he’ll be ready for the Maple Leafs’ season opener. His surgery was on August 13 and the prognosis was for a six-week timetable for a recovery. 

Matthews’ take about his wrist is that “It’s coming along well. Right now it’s a couple more weeks until I can kind of get out of the splint and start kind of really rehabbing and build my strength back. But I mean, as far as timeline goes, I’m going to get back on the ice this week. I’m really hopeful to be able to be ready for Game 1. That’s my goal right now. Just take it day by day and see how I’m feeling.” 

Matthews also hinted that he was injured during the playoffs and for much of the 2020-21 season. I didn’t take much to read between the lines of his comments when he was speaking about last season. Specifically, although he didn’t blame his lack of production on his injury, his comments show that he was playing injured throughout the season. 

Matthews reported that “Some nights were harder than others. Especially with how condensed the season was. But it would be hard to find anybody that wasn’t playing through bumps and bruises.” His comment was simply that others were injured as well.

He then hinted that he was aware of the critique he’d taken for his lack of production during the postseason when he said “I did everything I could to feel as good as possible and continue to play and keep going. There’s better days ahead, that’s for sure.”

As a bottom line, although Matthews missed games and we knew he was in some distress last season, his solid production made it tough to really notice it. Given the fact that he was playing with this wrist issue for most of the 2020-21 season, he still led the league with 41 goals in 52 games. Amazing.

 Item Two: Why Maple Leafs Fans Loved Zach Hyman

I’ve never done this before in a post, but I’m going to use a video from “The Maple Leafs Lounge” as the grounding for this item. As you can tell by watching the short video, host Kevin Armstrong asks about Zach Hyman and what the Maple Leafs need to do to find a replacement.

In my response, I talked about why I personally liked Hyman so much and why he endeared himself to fans. I suggested that what endears Hyman to us (Maple Leafs’ fans) is that “he’s just like us.” By that, I suggest that “he’s just a hard working guy.”

Historically, from the 15th Century, the concept of the “everyman” has been a stock character in fiction. What drew the readers to the “everyman” as a hero was that he/she was an ordinary and usually humble person whose conduct both allowed and fostered the reader’s identification. In the video, I then noted that I like Hyman because “he’s what I hope I am. He’s hardworking; he goes into the corners; he’s dogged as a player.” I can, and I think regular Maple Leafs’ fans can also, identify with those characteristics.

Finally, I note that the part of Hyman that I hope the Maple Leafs’ organization should find and clone is a player who’ll endear himself to the Maple Leafs’ fans and who fans can relate to. I believe Auston Matthews is tough for most fans to relate to because he’s just so much larger than life and is also so very, very good. 

At the same time, I don’t believe Maple Leafs’ fans have taken to Mitch Marner – even though he’s clearly a great hockey player – because of his contentious contract holdout. Those negotiations, although fans do understand that NHL hockey careers are short and subject to career-ending injuries and that NHL players are professionals seeking the highest salaries they can earn, didn’t endear him to the Toronto community. In fact, I think it rubbed fans the wrong way.

The Maple Leafs’ fans could benefit from someone they can more easily identify with and who they can appreciate just as much as they appreciated Hyman. I also hoped Michael Bunting could be that guy. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I’m looking forward to the 2021-22 regular season for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is to see what young Maple Leafs’ players can impact the system and possibly play well at the NHL level. I’m particularly looking forward to watching four youngsters.

The first is Rasmus Sandin, who I think might become a key player within the organization. The second is Nick Robertson, who’s apparently shown instant chemistry with Alex Steeves at the development camp. The third is Adam Brooks, because there just seems to be something special about him. The fourth is Timothy Liljegren because, if Liljegren can find a spot on the defense, that would fill a big need for the team.

There are so many things to watch this season.

This article first appeared on The Hockey Writers and was syndicated with permission.

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