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Maple Leafs’ John Tavares Not Ruled Out for Season Opener Despite Initial Timeline

Although an oblique injury put the timeline for the Maple Leafs captain to return after their regular season opens up, head coach Sheldon Keefe says the player is making progress in his recovery.

GRAVENHURST, Ont. — Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has not ruled out the possibility of John Tavares returning from an oblique injury in time for team’s regular season opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 12.

“It’s all going to depend on his recovery,” Keefe said following the team’s practice at the Gravenhurst Centennial Centre on Wednesday. “I think it was a very positive day for him today.”

Tavares returned to the ice on Monday for the first time after injuring his oblique in his only pre-season game on Sept. 24. 

On Sept. 27, Keefe announced that their captain would be out for a minimum of three weeks. That put the earliest for him to return to action on Oct. 18, a full six days after the regular season starts.

“The way that it would track out in terms of the plan that was set out was that he wouldn’t be available, but what his body is telling him is going to dictate whether that’s sooner, whether it’s later,” Keefe said.

The Toronto coach said he’s not expecting to have Tavares available to him this week and that will certainly tighten up the timeline for any possibility of an earlier-than-expected return, but it wasn’t dismissed entirely.

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A short-term injury timeline doesn’t help the Maple Leafs, who need to become salary cap compliant by Oct. 11. The club needs to shed just under $2.9 million in salary cap space by then, per That number is based on a 23-person roster, but does not include Zach Aston-Reese, who is on a professional tryout and a heavy favorite to make the team out of camp.

Toronto will likely get some long-term injury cap relief in the form of Timothy Liljegren (hernia) at a $1.4 million cap hit. A prorated portion of Carl Dahlstrom’s $750,000 cap hit can also be added to the pool (full amount isn’t eligible because he’s on a two-way deal). Although the timeline for Jordie Benn’s groin injury was a minimum of three weeks, he hasn’t been skating and could be a candidate for LTI. 

Pierre Engvall (ankle) continues to skate with the Maple Leafs and is set to undergo further tests. Keefe suggested the player could be available by opening night.

The Maple Leafs trotted out line combinations that could closely resemble their opening-night lineup.

William Nylander got some reps at center, but Keefe cautioned not to read too far into it and that it was more a placeholder for Tavares.

“We might use him there in the final preseason game that he’ll play,” Keefe said. “We’ll see how the rest of the week goes and how John’s recovery is looking and we’ll make decisions from there.”