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John Tavares to miss at least three weeks due to oblique strain

Maple Leafs center could miss start of the season.

John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Seven of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 14, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty images

Toronto Maple Leafs C John Tavares is expected to miss at least three weeks due to an oblique strain. Tavares was absent from practice and considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury for Toronto, which started the preseason over the weekend with a split squad against the Ottawa Senators. Tavares played over 17:00 in one of those games.

This is a big season for the Maple Leafs. It’s been forever since the team advanced out of the first round. Many believed last season was going to be when the Leafs get over the hump. Instead, they ended up losing in the first round in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Toronto finished with 115 points and second place in the Atlantic Division in 2021-22. That was the fourth-most points in the NHL. Expectations remain high heading into this campaign.

Tavares was OK last season at almost a point-per-game pace. He finished with 76 points (27 goals, 49 assists) in 79 games in 2021-22. The former New York Islanders captain has failed to get over that PPG mark in each of the past three seasons since having 88 points in 82 games for Toronto in his debut season with the team.

At 32 years old, you’ve got to be concerned about Tavares if you’re a Leafs fan. He’s not getting any younger and hasn’t played at an elite level since 2018-19. The Leafs should be OK with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner leading the scoring but secondary scoring has always been an issue for Toronto. The Leafs don’t really have much wiggle room in terms of cap space, so adding anyone significant before the season starts is out of the question.

So who will step up if Tavares’ injury leaks into the regular season? Alexander Kerfoot is the most logical answer from a fantasy perspective. He should end up centering a second line, either with Marner or William Nylander on the wing. The Leafs could opt to split up Matthews and Marner to balance the lines.