When Auston Matthews bolts for Arizona in the summer of 2025 I, a Toronto native and lifelong leafs fan, won't blame him one iota. Time was, scoring at a goal-per-game pace for 18 games (leading the league by half of the number scored by the next closest player in the process) got a guy some protection from diminutive Swedes – and anyone else who took liberties with him, for that matter (grizzly bears would have been ill-advised to hit Wayne Gretzky from behind). No so anymore, it seems – at least in the Dubas-era of Maple Leafs history. Apparently there is no advanced stat for protecting one of the two best players in the world (and quite possibly ever) from deliberate injury. Or at least that would explain why when, in Wednesday's annoyingly tight game against the visiting Calgary Flames, Matthews was thrown dangerously into the end-boards after a missed partial-break (with the puck well away from him long before the hit) by pesky (but by no means intimidating) defenseman Rasmus Anderson, no one on the leafs so much as approached Anderson to politely request that he not deliberately endanger the health and career of their franchise centre.
Not one. Not even the recently-signed Zach Bogosian – whom Dubas was roundly lauded (including by me) for bringing in along with Wayne Simmonds to address the buds glaring lack of toughness, and who (if past play is any indication) would've been more than happy to educate Anderson on the perils of late, dangerous hits on generational talents. Why he did not is anyone's guess, and mine is that he knew (either because of direct instruction from Sheldon Keefe, or the team's current culture with respect to such issues) that taking a penalty to send a message in a tied game might earn him a sojourn in the press-box, and for a second (perhaps last) chancer like Bogosian the price was (understandably) too high.
This, of course, is both a disgrace and a farce. Given how important Matthews is to the leafs, Keefe should've been waving a cheerful goodbye to the two points and using the rest of the game as a public service announcement about the consequences of going after a player who he has the once-in-a-lifetime (and, apparently unappreciated) opportunity to coach. Given how important retaining Matthews in 2025 will be to Dubas's career (if he's unfortunately still GM of the leafs at that point) he should've been calling down to the dressing room between periods to make sure something got done about the hit, and, if something was not done, climbing the boards into the Calgary bench to do it himself.
Needless to say, neither of those things happened – the leafs went on to get those precious two points (which, sitting comfortably atop the league standings, they clearly could not dare to risk) on the strength of some late-game heroics from William Nylander, and Matthews is now day-to-day with a wrist injury suffered on the Anderson hit. More importantly than the injury (which could've been much, much worse)however, is the North Division (and the league) seeing that it's open season on Matthews (and Marner, Nylander, Reilly et al) and Matthews (who took an offsetting minor tussling with Anderson a few shifts after the hit) learning that his team, coach, and GM will not protect him, and that he will have to do it (risking further injury in the process) himself as long as he remains in blue in white.
To be clear, Matthews may be bound for his home team no matter what happens (his leaving money on the table to be a UFA in just five years did not bode well for his long-term future in Toronto) but, rather than doing everything he can to give the leagues' premier goal-scorer reasons to stay in Toronto, Dubas is actively (and inexplicably) giving him reasons to leave. Before Wednesday's game I would never have blamed Matthews (or any player) for wanting to pull on the colours of their hometown club – the Leafs benefit from this phenomenon more than any other team (Simmonds, Jon Tavares, Jason Spezza, Byran Marchment [if your memory stretches back that far] hopefully Jordan Binnington and/or Dougie Hamilton this off-season) and grousing about the other edge of that sword would (and will) be clownish hypocrisy.
After Wednesday I wouldn't blame Matthews if he requested a trade.