Toronto Maple Leafs: When will Auston Matthews actually return?

TORONTO,ON - JANUARY 16: Auston Matthews
TORONTO,ON - JANUARY 16: Auston Matthews /

With Auston Matthews’ injury taking longer than expected to heal, when will he be back on the ice and in competitive action for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

It has been six games since Auston Matthews has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it feels like longer. Every time you think positive progress is being made, there seems to be some holdup or setback.

The latest such incident came on Monday, when Matthews took part in practice and even participated in some line rushes. However, as noted by TSN’s Kristen Shilton, he was wearing a no-contact jersey.

Speaking to Shilton and other members of the media after practice, coach Mike Babcock said he had noticed the 20-year-old shying away more during contact drills. While this is understandable given his shoulder injury, it also shows he still isn’t where he needs to be.

Matthews has already been ruled out for Wednesday’s game against Dallas. However, he will also miss the following night’s visit to Buffalo.

In fact, Sportsnet‘s Chris Johnston suggests the two-time All-Star probably won’t return until Mar. 20 at the earliest, for the trip to Tampa. Further, with a second road game that week, the thinking is the Leafs may hold him out until Mar. 24, when the team returns home to face Detroit.

The reality of all this is there is no way of knowing at this stage when Matthews will return. However, the evidence at least points towards the Leafs taking a sensible cautious approach, rather than rushing him back.

Helping make this approach easier, is the Leafs already know the Bruins will likely be their opponent in the first round of the playoffs. It stands to reason a healthier Matthews would be beneficial.

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Of course, this has to be balanced against the 2016 first overall draft pick getting some game action in the buildup to the playoffs. He needs to make sure he has regained his strength and is back into the swing of things on the ice.

There is some concern about how Matthews’ shoulder will impact his performance. As noted by Johnston, he will have to wear a shoulder harness and deal with some discomfort, even after he is finally cleared to play.

Not that anyone questions the California native’s toughness. Regardless, it will be an intriguing subplot to keep an eye on, when he returns to the ice.


In related Matthews news, he is in an interesting position with a potential $2 million “Schedule B” performance bonus. As per Johnston, he has to finish in the top 10 among NHL forwards in goals per game, to earn the bonus for a second consecutive season.

The star centre is currently in such a position, with 28 goals in 53 games. However, if he were to return and struggle, it is conceivable he will fall out of the top 10.

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What’s your best educated guess regarding when Matthews will return to action, taking all the relevant information into account? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.