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Auston Matthews to be out at least 4 weeks

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He’s going on IR, so a forward can be added to the team.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As we’ll learn about later today, the NHL’s partnership with sports gambling has meant new openness about injuries. In that spirit the Maple Leafs have wished us a hearty good morning:

Update: It was announced today that Matthews will definitely not need surgery, and this injury is similar in type to the one he suffered last year on the other side.

For today’s game, we have yesterday’s practice as a guide, and we should expect the following forward lines:

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson - Par Lindholm - Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis - Frederik Gauthier - Josh Leivo

This actually looks ideal out of what’s available for a short-term solution. The Lindholm line with Brown and Ennis looked really capable at playing without the puck and doing a few useful things beyond forechecking offensively. As a “can handle the second best lines” checking line, they’re fine. However, this is going to be tricky in Pittsburgh because Tavares and Kadri will have to split the Crosby and Malkin lines. and the Leafs players left to make hay against the Penguins bottom six are, um, not all that inspiring.

This fourth line does not look like it can play increased minutes, so that’s the big area of weakness. That 12-man bottom six has 12 points between them, and only Leivo and Ennis have a higher Points per 60 minutes rate than Ron Hainsey.

Against any team other than the Penguins they might play in the near future, that lineup is likely fine, but it leaves zero extra forwards on the team. With Matthews on IR, they can call up someone from the Marlies to provide an extra forward.

Should they?

There’s no need to do this today, although they can. The Marlies are in town, they aren’t leaving until Thursday to begin their Royal Winter Fair road trip, so if someone stubs a toe, a last minute call-up is right to hand.

The next Leafs game on Thursday is another story. At that point a decision has to be made, and rolling along with no extras is highly unlikely, particularly with a road game on Saturday.

Update:

There is no certainty this plan will hold for the whole month, however. But:

Who then?

Now, that’s a good question. How about William Nylander instead? That would be my choice, and the Leafs’ choice too, I would imagine. But assuming that can’t happen in time for Pittsburgh, who should the Leafs call up?

Who it won’t be:

  • Carl Grundstrom
  • Pierre Engvall
  • Adam Brooks (injured)
  • Jeremy Bracco
  • Dmytro Timashov
  • Sam Gagner (he can’t be)

Why not any of them? They’re young prospects who are busy developing. If you want to see them, watch the Marlies.

That leaves:

Trevor Moore: This is who Hardev wants, and I don’t even need to ask him about it to know that. Moore is playing very hot out of the gate, leading the Marlies in points, and he is getting his points at five-on-five. He’s tenacious, works hard, is scrappy and looks like he should be depth-NHL-capable. But his preseason in the Leafs lineup was patchy at best, and at times really not good at all.

Adam Cracknell: He can play centre or wing, likely will clear waivers if it comes to that in the fullness of time — it might not, he might not stay the 10 games or 30 days to require waivers again. Cracknell is a second tier Marlies scorer, but still a key part of the team. He has a lot of NHL experience as a depth player.

Josh Jooris: He’s got all the attributes of Cracknell, but not the same level of talent. He’s shooting at a good AHL rate, and has two points so far, so some of that is luck.

Mason Marchment: He’s just back from injury, and already has two points in four games. He scored at the same rate as Moore last season, and he’s bigger, tougher, not as good a skater, but just as scrappy. I think the Leafs want him as a depth guy of the future if he’s got what it takes. So now might be a time for him to sit in the press box and get in practices.

Will this call-up even play?

I sure hope not! Unless the Leafs want to stop using Frederik Gauthier as a just-barely-replacement-level NHL centre, whoever they callup would be an emergency replacement and a helpful practice guy. Given that, someone whose development would be helped by some Leafs practices, but not harmed by missing some AHL games would be great. That’s Marchment. Moore would be a fine choice to acknowledge his good start so far, but he really would be better off playing for a month, not watching NHL games.

This sort of situation is exactly what Cracknell and Jooris were signed for, so my bet is one of them to get the call. Either way, the Marlies aren’t forward rich right now, and any one of these guys is a meaningful loss to the roster as they hit the road.

The Leafs need to hope for big things from Par Lindholm and for some of last year’s scoring luck to strike Connor Brown. Nazem Kadri could use some luck too, but the other lurking issue is Patrick Marleau’s play which has him scoring at a pace similar to Ennis and Leivo. Maybe a return to Kadri’s line can be a silver lining, and an improvement for him.

As always, we’ll update you when we have more news, and the preview for today’s game should have confirmation of tonight’s lines.

Happy Monday, Leafs fans.