Hyman suffers sprained MCL, will miss two weeks minimum
TORONTO — Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman has a sprained MCL in his right knee and will miss at least two weeks, but head coach Sheldon Keefe says his team “shouldn't miss a beat” during his absence with reinforcements already on the way.
The Leafs’ winger was injured in the second period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday, moving through the neutral zone when Alex Edler’s outstretched right leg tripped him up. Hyman left the game and would not return, while Edler was assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct. The Canucks’ defenceman was subsequently suspended for two games by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Monday.
In the wake of Hyman’s loss, there’s help on the horizon, too. Toronto’s trade deadline acquisition Nick Foligno is nearly done his mandatory seven-day quarantine, and is scheduled to join the Leafs in Winnipeg on Wednesday ahead of their clashes with the Jets on Thursday and Saturday.
That’s just one of the reasons Keefe will accept no excuses during this latest patch of adversity.
“What injuries do is creates opportunities for others," Keefe said after Monday’s practice. It forces some change and different things. We've got other people that can fill in. We've played without important people throughout the season and played some of our best hockey when we've missed guys. We've just got to give Hyms time to get healthy and know he'll come back strong. Our team shouldn't miss a beat.”
Hyman has been a jack-of-all-trades throughout his career in Toronto, capable of playing any role throughout the lineup while consistently being a top producer offensively. His 15 goals in 43 games this season are second only to Auston Matthews, and he’s fourth overall in points with 33.
A key contributor on the penalty kill and power play, Hyman paces all Leafs’ forwards in shorthanded ice time (1:58/game) and chips in regular minutes (1:30/game) on the man advantage.
The versatile forward, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, has a recent history of knee injuries. He tore the ACL in his right knee – the same knee he injured on Sunday – during the first round of the NHL playoffs in 2019 and required surgery, putting into perspective how much worse this current ailment could have been.
“If he can get himself back in two weeks that would be great news for us,” Keefe said. “These types of hits and the type of contact can have some pretty bad results so we'll take it. Our team will just press on. We'll miss him, but other people will step up and that in itself will make us a stronger group here down the stretch.”
Having Foligno in the wings cushions the blow as well. The team is supposed to arrive in Winnipeg late on Wednesday and will be greeted by the former Columbus Blue Jackets’ captain, fresh from a week-long isolation.
“It's going to be nice to see Nick when we get out there and welcome him to our team,” Keefe said. “It will certainly give us a boost at a time that you lose a significant piece to your team. Whether it's injuries, performance, whatever it is, you need to be able to have answers to questions that come up.”
Before Toronto starts heading back east, there’s one more game against the Canucks looming on Tuesday. And what the Leafs’ lineup will look like remains to be seen.
In a strange turn, William Nylander was singled out at Monday’s practice by having to don a grey seater generally reserved for taxi squad players. The winger just returned Sunday from a five-game absence due to COVID-19 protocols and scored the opening salvo for Toronto in Sunday’s overtime loss.
Nylander did not take reps in his usual spot on the Leafs’ power play and only stepped into a regular line rush when Ilya Mikheyev left practice for unknown reasons. Keefe said the demotion for Nylander was caused by a disciplinary issue that could affect whether he plays on Tuesday.
“It was a simple [as Nylander] was late for a meeting here this morning and his status was that he wasn't going to play tomorrow,” Keefe said. “And so we had him on the outside here for today for practice and we're going to discuss it and reassess it for tomorrow night's game.”
Toronto has come down hard on players in the past for tardiness. Last season, former winger Kasperi Kapanen was benched for a night after missing a scheduled team meeting. But Keefe’s potential change of heart with Nylander appeared to stem from Mikheyev’s unexplained departure from Monday’s session.
Mikheyev had been the first Leaf on the ice for practice, and then spent a couple minutes talking to trainer Paul Ayotte on the bench prior to high-tailing it off. Keefe had no update on him after, and said Mikheyev is “questionable” for Tuesday’s game. If he is unable to play, Keefe would have little choice but to slot Nylander back in.
And it’s hard to argue that wouldn’t be in Toronto’s best interest. The Leafs are riding a four-game winless streak into Tuesday night, and haven’t scored more than two goals in any of those outings. Nylander already has one against the Canucks on this trip, and the Leafs will be eyeing more production – from whomever is tapped to play – on Tuesday.
“We're a team that's [done] well for a long period of time, we’ve proven that we're one of the better teams, and we just need to stick to our foundation,” said Jason Spezza. “I feel like right now, we [need to] know what works for us and appreciate the process of this time of year. We have some big games coming up and it’s good for us to just keep working away.”