Is Auston Matthews Concussed?

TORONTO (Apr. 29) — Though the Maple Leafs do not disclose medical information (hey, Gary Bettman, how are fans to wager on games in the National Hockey League without such data?), a tidbit of sincerity raised the antenna of a sports doctor I know; a person who asked to not be identified because he has never examined Auston Matthews. The morsel came, perhaps unwittingly, from coach Sheldon Keefe when discussing the “illness” that has gripped the NHL’s leading goal scorer. “For whatever reason, it’s not one of those everyday types of illnesses that sort of come and go,” Keefe said after Matthews did not appear for the third period of Game 4 on Saturday. “This one has lingered, and the effects have lingered and gotten worse when he’s on the ice asserting himself.”

Over to you, doc.

“I know that Matthews has sustained at least two concussions during his years in the NHL,” said the sports clinician. “And, while I have no pertinent info, the fact the Leafs are calling it an ‘illness’ rather than an injury — and that the issue is complicated by physical exertion — leads me to think he may have taken another shot to the head. Of course, the NHL has strict concussion protocol and the Leafs would be obligated to keep Matthews out of the line–up if he’s experiencing any effects of post–concussion syndrome. I’m sort of debunking my own argument, but no one tells the truth in the playoffs. So we are left to speculate. And, I’m comfortable with the head–shot hypothesis.” Others have suggested Matthews incurred food poisoning. “Were that the case, he’d be very sick for a brief time,” said the doctor. “Food poisoning doesn’t ‘linger’. Neither is it exacerbated by physical activity.

“You find yourself bent over a toilet until it passes.”

What about the flu, doc? “That’s another possibility, but influenza is very contagious and would likely be going through the dressing room. The Leafs haven’t said anything about other players being ill. So, I kind of doubt it.”

COVID–19? “Matthews would be on his back in bed, not on the bench for a Stanley Cup playoff game.”

Boston Bruins fever? “No comment.”

Whatever the case, an acute ailment cannot account for Matthews scoring only 23 goals in 54 career playoff games (dating to 2017), while erupting for 60 and 69 goals in the regular season. Something else is at work during the Stanley Cup hunt and no one around the Leafs can figure it out. Whichever malady Auston has sustained occurred well after Game 2, in Boston, when he was the star attraction, winning the match on a wondrous breakaway in the third period. We haven’t since noticed much from No. 34. His playoff scoring pace after eliminating Tampa Bay in the opening round a year ago equates to a nine–goal regular season. That is one goal in his past nine starts. Hardly the 69–goal pace of October to mid–April. Clearly, if Matthews is dealing with any sort of head issue, he should not be playing. Concussions are accumulative — they don’t “go away” — and Auston has been familiar with them since early in his second NHL season. As per this bulletin by The Canadian Press wire service:

Auston Matthews confirms he’s been dealing with concussion symptoms
The Canadian Press · 

Matthews collided with teammate Morgan Rielly during a game at Pittsburgh on Dec. 9, 2017, but the world didn’t learn of his first NHL concussion for nearly two weeks. The No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL draft was merely sidelined with an “undisclosed injury.” He finally showed his face to cameras (as per the photo, above) on Dec. 22, one day prior to his return after missing six games. Another issue occurred on Feb. 7, 2022, against Carolina, during a fluke collision with the knee of Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce after a scoring chance. The game, at Scotiabank Arena, was played before a sparse gathering in the early days of the COVID–19 vaccines. Though a bit woozy afterward, Matthews did not miss any additional games. On several other occasions, while slowly leaving the ice, announcers would speculate about another jolt to the noggin. As we are, today.

“Many ailments that deteriorate with physical exertion are neurologically–based,” said my doctor/friend. “You ask any hockey player about early symptoms after a whack to the head and he’ll mention the one the Leafs have described with Matthews. Again, I don’t know if Auston is suffering the effects of another concussion. But, why would the Leafs make such a point if he has, say, the flu? I mean, anyone with the flu will feel worse after putting on skates and taking a few laps. Right? It wouldn’t seem necessary to make that distinction.” It is, however, necessary for teams to maintain a cloak of silence and subterfuge whenever a player incurs even a minor ailment.

I often tell a story about the architect of the “upper–body injury” in the NHL: the late, great Irishman, Pat Quinn, coach of the Maple Leafs from 1998 to 2006. It was impossible to pry accurate information out of him. A player could show up in the morning as a double–leg amputee and Quinn wouldn’t rule him out for that night’s game.

Such a scenario took shape midway through the 2005–06 season, with Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe on pace to eclipse Ian Turnbull’s club record for points by a defenceman (79, in 1976–77). McCabe left a game in Edmonton on Jan. 7, 2006 with the Leafs — in the first season of the salary cap — en route to crafting a 7–1–0 mark early in the new year. Without McCabe, the team immediately lost eight consecutive games… and a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. More than a week after the “lower–body injury” occurred, the Leafs were practicing at Denver University, one day prior to a game against the Colorado Avalanche. Word had somehow gotten out that McCabe had suffered a groin injury, though Quinn refused to elaborate. A good source of mine tipped me off that the defenseman actually had a small tear in his groin: considerably worse than a muscle strain.

After the midday skate in Denver, which I covered in my role as Maple Leafs reporter for The FAN–590, I put the scenario to Quinn and held my breath, awaiting either a denial — or exasperation over the issue arising, yet again. Instead, and surprisingly, the big Irishman looked at me, expressionless, and admitted “yeah, I also hear he may have a small tear, but there’s been no confirmation from our medical personnel.”

Yeah, right, as if I would get the news before the club’s general manager and coach.

In this case, and though Matthews isn’t half the scorer in the playoffs than the regular season, the Leafs would obviously welcome his presence. Without No. 34, the Bruins won’t have to worry about another grandiose display — rare though it is after mid–April — from the league’s top goal–getter.

When Matthews is on the ice, possibilities are limitless.

In his absence, another Leaf will need to become clutch, even for a night.

And, if that player exists against Boston, it has escaped my eyes.


8 comments on “Is Auston Matthews Concussed?

  1. Perhaps the game 4 bench “argument” could result in some of the core 4 members wanting out. Waive those NMC/NTC. What a break that would be. Yeah, I’m dreaming.

  2. If Matthews is concussed let him sit out and recover. The game can be won without him. But if the Leafs lose tonight it will be time for a coaching change. This is Keefe’s fifth playoffs with the Leafs and he hasn’t had enough success. Some guys play poorly under him. Special teams fail and Leafs give up too many good scoring chances and too many goals. Mike Babcock could turn this team around in my opinion. Shorter shifts. Three offensive lines and Tavares and Rielly performed better under him. Also, let the kids play. Don’t bring in anymore mediocre UFAs to take jobs from talented prospects.

  3. Matthews is fine in the playoffs… he has hit the post 5 times. There are no big bodies on the forecheck to get him the puck. Bertuzzi and Domi? Give me a break. Leafs lose 80% of puck battles which is why they are going home after tonight. They need some big wingers who can take the body and feed Matthews the puck.

  4. That could be plausible. In the first three games he was at least trying to throw his weight around (awkwardly at times). But if he suffered a concussion on those “hits” it doesn’t bode well for him.

    There was also two plays in game three that could’ve been leg related. The missed penalty where he was hauled down behind the net and another accidental play in the corner that looked bad.

    We should learn the truth either way after they are eliminated tonight!

  5. I was explaining the Leafs to my wife and she replied the Leafs reminded her of a high school dance back in the 60s. All the wimpy girls sitting at the side of the gym waiting to be asked to dance. Then Karen gets up walks over to the boys side and says to a boy “Let’s dance.” All the girls are saying “Look at Karen – she has nerve!” But at the end of the night Karen is the girl who had the most fun. Then she says Karen is Brad Marchand.

  6. As l have written on my blurbs, the younger players of this time will be lucky to last til their 35. The players of yesteryear got mid April to Sept, to rest up . The season today is toooo long toooo many teams, the quality of refs is being diluted 70 game schedule would be enough. It’s all about the money , betting, the Vegas effect, Ovis era is over, playing til your 40 will be a memory,, that’s all folks?

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