Hunwick will have season-ending sports hernia surgery, playing his final game this year on Monday night. Toronto head coach Mike Babcock announced the news following practice on Tuesday afternoon.
The 30-year-old was first injured in mid-February, missing four games due to the ailment. The injury continued to trouble him upon return and, following a 27-minute performance in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Sabres, the Leafs opted to shut him down.
“He tried battling through, we tried nursing him along, but obviously he’s not capable to keep going so we’re shutting him down,” Babcock said.
Hunwick said the injury, which first occurred Feb. 13 in Vancouver, was recently causing him to over-compensate elsewhere, causing issues to arise with other parts of the body. That, evidently, was what forced the decision to have surgery.
“It’s tough,” Hunwick said. “No matter how the season is going, you always want to be a part of it, always want to play.”
Hunwick became a fixture on the Leafs top defensive pair in his first season with the club, second on the team with an average of nearly 23 minutes per game.
He quickly emerged as a favourite of the head coach for his strong work ethic and professionalism.
“He’s been great obviously and he plays important minutes for us,” Babcock said.
Twenty-four-old Martin Marincin will replace him alongside Morgan Rielly on the team’s first pair. Toronto also recalled 23-year-old Viktor Loov from the Toronto Marlies to fill out a defence that recently lost Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak to trade.
Babcock says he sees potential in Marincin, someone he described as an “elite, elite skater”.
“Confidence hasn’t come easy to him though,” Babcock said of Marincin, acquired from Edmonton last summer. “His biggest thing is himself and his confidence.”
The Leafs will miss Hunwick especially on the penalty kill over the final 17 games. Hunwick led all NHL defenceman in average ice-time shorthanded (3:42 per game), though Babcock was quick to note Marincin’s growing comfort killing penalties.
Hunwick joins Joffrey Lupul (sports hernia surgery) and James van Riemsdyk (broken foot) as other prominent Leafs to have been shut down for the season with injury.
Toronto sits last in the NHL with 53 points.