The hope was always there.
Auston Matthews remained optimistic as he worked his way back from offseason wrist surgery. But on a holiday Monday, the star forward revealed news that many Toronto Maple Leafs fans will not be thankful for.
"I don't personally feel like I'm at the point that I feel 100 percent comfortable to play," Matthews said. "That's really all it is. I feel good physically and everything, I just think I need a little bit more time."
Matthews will miss the team's first three games of the regular season. Throughout training camp, the team had used placeholders on what was expected to be his line with Nick Ritchie and Mitch Marner.
On Monday, the first indication that Matthews may not be ready came when he donned a gray extras jersey. John Tavares moved directly into Matthews' spot as the centers on the team moved up the lineup accordingly.
"We're adjusting to that reality," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said of Matthews. "Clearly, you guys are watching that he's not very far away here."
Despite scoring a league-best 41 goals last season, Matthews' wrist nagged him for much of the campaign. Once the season had ended and he entered the offseason, he felt his wrist had calmed down. It wasn't until his training ramped where the wrist became an issue again and a determination was made by both Matthews and the team to have the surgery
The Maple Leafs announced Matthews' surgery on Aug. 13 with a recovery time of a minimum of six weeks.
"He went through last season where he was not playing at 100 percent and he's gone through this procedure to be in that position [to play at 100 percent]," Keefe said of Matthews. "We'll make sure that we're patient enough to allow that to happen," Keefe said.
Entering his sixth season in the NHL, Matthews will miss the season opener for the first time in his career. He has nine goals in three assists over five season openers, with the most notable being his record-breaking NHL debut on Oct. 12, 2016, when he scored four goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.