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The hits keep coming for the Maple Leafs.
A knee injury will keep forward Andreas Johnsson out of the lineup for at least eight weeks, coach Sheldon Keefe said during a conference call on Friday.
“After spending time with our doctors, (it was determined) it’s going to require surgery,” Keefe said. “We will have more of an update on his timeline once the procedure is completed.”
Johnsson was injured when he collided with teammate Kasperi Kapanen during the first period of the game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena. Johnsson’s right knee appeared to absorb much of the blow.
Johnsson joins defencemen Morgan Rielly (foot) and Cody Ceci (ankle) and winger Ilya Mikheyev (wrist) on the sidelines.
There was some encouraging news regarding Rielly, who has not played since he was hurt on Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers.
“In regard to him healing … it’s a slow process, but I believe in the next week or so he will be progressing to weight-bearing and starting to move forward with his rehab plan,” Keefe said. “We’re still looking at toward the end of March for him.”
If Rielly is back before the end of the regular season (the Leafs’ last game is on April 4), the Leafs, of course, would activate him from long-term injured reserve, so they wouldn’t have that money to use toward acquiring a player before the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline.
Now, though, general manager Kyle Dubas will be able to use Johnsson’s $3.4-million US cap hit in salary relief to help acquire another player, preferably a defenceman.
What’s of more immediate concern for Keefe and the Leafs comes on the ice, where the challenge to lock down a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will continue to increase in the final seven weeks of the regular season.
The injuries don’t help, of course, but the Leafs could have a couple of fresh faces in the lineup when they start a three-game trip on Saturday in Ottawa against the Senators. With Johnsson hurt and Pontus Aberg returned to the Toronto Marlies on Friday, forwards Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov are bound to get get back into action, provided the Leafs don’t recall another forward from the minors.
Keefe said on Friday that netminder Jack Campbell will start in Ottawa, with Frederik Andersen getting the call in the second game of the back-to-back set on Sunday in Buffalo versus the Sabres.
The Leafs are coming up on 150 man-games lost to injury this season, and only Auston Matthews and Tyson Barrie have played in all 58 games.
“It does present challenges, it affects your depth, but it’s part of the game and everybody goes through it,” Keefe said.
“That’s really what the great challenge is for us, to be able to develop and show that we’re an upper-echelon team. I believe those teams are the ones that don’t get fazed by an injury here or an injury there. We just have to stay focused on what we need to do well as a group. We hope to be in a better spot as a group when those injured players do return.”
No matter who has been in the lineup, the Leafs have taken steps with Keefe, compiling a record of 21-10-4 since he replaced Mike Babcock on Nov. 20. Toronto didn’t beat Dallas, losing 3-2, but the win was there for the Leafs, considering they had 72 attempts to the Stars’ 35 and kept Dallas to 19 shots on goal.
“What we have focused on coming out of the all-star break is to reduce those types of (odd-man) chances we are giving up,” Keefe said. “I think we have made great progress, especially when you consider we are doing it without Rielly and Ceci.
“It’s a shift-to-shift thing. We have to remain consistent and diligent with it. We also have to realize that hockey is going to happen.
“We all watch the highlights every night — across the league, teams give up chances and breakaways and odd-man rushes. It’s going to happen, but we have reduced the number of them.”
MUZZIN, LEAFS GETTING CLOSER ON NEW CONTRACT
The Maple Leafs reportedly are making progress in contract talks with defenceman Jake Muzzin, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Muzzin, who turns 31 on Feb. 21, is in the final season of a five-year deal that carries an annual average value of $4-million US.
A message left on Friday with Muzzin’s agent, Joe Resnick, was not immediately returned.
What has been made clear to us in recent weeks is that Muzzin enjoys playing in Toronto since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings just over a year ago, but not to the point that the native of Woodstock, Ont., would be willing to leave a lot of money on the table to remain with the Leafs.
It’s just speculation, but a fair contract for Muzzin and the Leafs would come in at three to four years with an AAV in the range of $5-million to $5.5-million.
Muzzin has 15 points (three goals and 12 assists) in 47 games for the Leafs this season, but more importantly, provides a physical element that the Leafs don’t have in abundance.
Locking up Muzzin for the foreseeable future would be a prudent move on the part of Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas.
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