Hyman's likely return before playoffs a sigh of relief for Maple Leafs

Justin Bourne joined Sportsnet Central and talked about Nick Foligno being in a position to step up for the Maple Leafs in the absence of Zach Hyman.

The sigh you heard?

That was a sigh of relief after the Toronto Maple Leafs officially got word about Zach Hyman’s likely return before the playoffs. While there may have been more optimism inside the team’s dressing room than among fans who saw Hyman limp down the tunnel following a knee-on-knee collision Sunday night, his status was very much up in the air pending the results of a Monday MRI.

It revealed a sprained MCL in Hyman’s right knee that will keep him out at least two weeks, but won’t require any type of surgical procedure.

“I think all things considered if he can get himself back in two weeks that would be great news for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “These types of hits and that type of contact can have some pretty bad results.

“We’ll take it.”

It was easy to fear the worst following a collision that earned Vancouver Canucks defenceman Alex Edler a two-game suspension. Hyman had previously required surgery to repair a torn ACL on the same knee following the 2019 playoffs and he’s the last guy who would stay down any longer than necessary.

These last couple seasons have seen Hyman cement himself as a core piece of the organization - albeit one with an uncertain future and a potential date with free agency in July - so losing him in this manner, this close to the playoffs, would have stung.

“He’s a huge part of this team,” said Joe Thornton. “He’s a big part of the locker-room. He’s obviously a big part of what we do on the ice. He’s just a bull out there.

“He’s a huge, huge part of this team and we hope he gets better soon because we’re going to need him down the stretch here.”

Hyman is coming off consecutive 21-goal seasons and sat second among Leafs players in goals (15) and fourth in points (33) so far this year. What makes him so valuable to the coaching staff is how consistently he contributes whether playing alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line, or in a more grinding type of situation with others.

“He can play really anywhere in the lineup,” said Marner.

If there’s a silver lining to be found here, it’s that Nick Foligno is set to fulfill his quarantine and join the Leafs later in the week. He could play as soon as Thursday night in Winnipeg and should help the team weather Hyman’s absence.

Toronto has remained atop the North Division standings since early February despite missing Matthews, Nylander, Frederik Andersen and others to injury.

“We’ve got other people that have played well for us that can fill in and we’ve played without important people throughout the season and have played some of our best hockey when we’ve missed guys,” said Keefe. “We’ve just got to give Hyms time to get healthy and know that he’ll come back strong.

“Our team shouldn’t miss a beat.”

The fact he’s coming back at all is the big news of the day. That didn’t look like a certainty as he collected himself on the ice Sunday night and struggled to get to the visiting dressing room.

These past couple days have underscored why general manager Kyle Dubas was so aggressive at last week’s trade deadline - acquiring Foligno, goaltender David Rittich, depth defenceman Ben Hutton and others.

“Whether it’s matchups, whether it’s injuries, performance, whatever it is you need to be able to have answers to questions that come up and issues that come up,” said Keefe. “So, yeah, it’s going to be nice to see Nick when we get out there to Winnipeg and welcome him to our team and certainly will give us a boost at a time you lose a significant piece to your team.”

At least Hyman shouldn’t be gone too long.

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