Toronto Maple Leafs forward and captain John Tavares will be out for at least two weeks with a broken finger, the team announced Thursday.
The centre sustained the injury Wednesday during Toronto’s 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals. He took a Morgan Rielly shot off the hand with about five and a half minutes to go.
Tavares, more than earning his place in hockey lore, scored with that broken finger a shift later and almost helped his club tie the game.
Now, Toronto will have to make do without him for at least six games. He’ll be re-evaluated after the two weeks is up.
The 29-year-old is difficult if not impossible to replace in the Maple Leafs’ lineup, so talk of that has to be right out the window. Tavares has seven points in eight games, including three goals, and is coming off back-to-back 82 game seasons. In fact, he’s only missed nine games in his last five regular seasons.
The goal now is sustainability for Toronto, which is where head coach Mike Babcock will have to get creative.
Jason Spezza instantly comes to mind, as he’s the sort of centre seemingly designed for situations like this. He’s been scratched the last three games and has one point in three games this season, but the 36-year-old’s veteran prowess could be helpful now. He wins faceoffs and can produce offensively, but Babcock has mostly relegated him to the sort of fourth-line role he doesn’t exactly enjoy.
This situation, however, calls for something else. It calls for Jason Spezza to be Jason Spezza.
Toronto is deep at centre, with players like Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander possible candidates for increased ice time in the absence of Tavares.
The 4-3-1 Maple Leafs take on the Boston Bruins next and that’ll be a doozy, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to see what could come out of a little creativity. Putting Spezza in the mix could jumpstart many of Toronto’s forwards, including Mitch Marner, and that’s as good a way as any to make lemonade out of lemons.
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