NHL Betting: Auston Matthews Injury Doesn’t Hurt Leafs Odds

NHL Betting: Auston Matthews Injury Doesn’t Hurt Leafs Odds

Sunday night, it was revealed by the Toronto Maple Leafs that superstar young forward Auston Matthews would miss a minimum of four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Yet, there the Leafs were Tuesday, still tied for second with the Nashville Predators, at +900 with 888Sport and other top ice hockey bookmakers in Stanley Cup betting.

Toronto was the favorite two weeks ago, at the same +900 (Tampa Bay, at +850, has since passed the Leafs). So, the odds haven’t really changed much in the big picture for NHL betting. But here’s why this injury should be viewed, in my estimation anyway, as more than just a trifling concern to the Leafs’ long-term outlook.

Shoulders are Tricky

As Justin Bourne noted for The Athletic, this is Matthews’ second serious shoulder injury in as many years. This current injury is to the left shoulder, however, while the one that kept him out 10 games last season was to the right.

But, as Bourne, a former pro hockey player, further noted:

“There are two scary parts about shoulder injuries, and one is particularly glaring for a 22-year-old superstar: They come easier and easier the more you’ve had. There’s no shortage of players in the NHL who have to do regular strength building to keep the muscles around the joint strong, who have to tape up their shoulders pre-game, and who have to ice that area daily even when they haven’t inflicted any new damage that particular day. It’s just that type of game.”

”Once it gets to that state,” Bourne continued, “a player has to start asking questions about surgery, which is usually done in the off-season. And a player can often put it off until then, as most guys can get by using preventative methods. But a player prone to shoulder problems is still at a higher risk, especially if they happen to take a hard shot they didn’t see coming.”

I’ve seen a lot of shoulder injuries in my 24 years covering the NHL too, and while I can’t speak from personal experience the way Bourne can, they are tricky things that do seem to recur with more frequency than other injuries.

The worst of the shoulder injuries is when the joint becomes dislocated. That almost always requires surgery and usually has a long-term prognosis for recovery. Assuming it’s just a four-week timetable in Matthews’ case, it’s likely just a mild-to-moderate separation of the shoulder.

As Bourne said, though, once a shoulder has been either separated and/or dislocated, it’s more of a worry that reinjury will occur. Now, Matthews has suffered injuries to both shoulders. You think teams aren’t going to target Matthews’ shoulders in the future with some big hits?

They will.

Leafs Can Persevere with Tavares

Toronto went 5-3-2 in the 10 games Matthews missed with his shoulder injury of last season. This Maple Leafs team has center John Tavares on it, so it should be much better equipped to handle Matthews’ absence this time.

Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million free-agent contract with Toronto over the summer, certainly has experience carrying the bulk of the offense from his days as a New York Islander.

Look for coach Mike Babcock to obviously give Tavares more ice time now, and this could be a good thing for a guy still trying to get to know his new teammates on and off the ice. He can take a bigger leadership role for a while, as Matthews convalesces.

There is no replacing the talent of Matthews, whose 16 points were tied for fourth in the NHL. Kasperi Kapanen is expected to take his place on the Leafs’ first power-play unit, and Par Lindholm is expected to move from left wing to center to replace Matthews on his line.

Along with more ice time for Tavares, the Maple Leafs should be able to reasonably withstand Matthews’ absence for a month or so.

The worry is: Even when he comes back, how vulnerable will be those shoulders?