Auston Matthews is already the GLOAT – the greatest Leaf of all time

It’s been nearly six years since the Maple Leafs named the 100 greatest players in franchise history to celebrate their centennial.

At that point, at a game of his NHL career, with his first four-goal debut in league history, Auston Matthews didn’t make the list.

Six seasons later and Matthews should get over it. Though he’s only 24, he’s already the greatest player the franchise has ever seen, hitting heights – including a Leaf’s first Hart Trophy win in the modern era – never before seen in Toronto.

Matthews is the GLOAT – the greatest Leaf of all time.


(Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

His case is compelling enough.

Matthews’ list of individual achievements is mountainous and unmatched by any Leaf player, ever. It’s one of the best career starts for any player in NHL history, period.

On Tuesday night, Matthews became the first Leaf since Ted Kennedy in 1955 – 67 years ago – to win Hart as the league’s MVP. He also became the first Leaf to win the Ted Lindsay Award, dubbed the Most Outstanding Player by his peers.

The Leafs haven’t had a top hockey player contender in a long, long time. Nor have their players won many individual awards. Before Matthews won the Calder Trophy in 2017, the last Leaf player to win a major award was Doug Gilmour, with the Selke Trophy, in 1993.

Matthews is only the third Leaf ever to win Hart, joining Kennedy and Babe Pratt in 1944. No Leaf has ever won the Norris Trophy for best defender in the league. It has been decades since a Leafs goalkeeper captured Vezina.

Matthews’ four-goal debut was just the opening bar in a 40-goal rookie season, the highest ever since a first-year Leaf. This earned Matthews Calder’s first win for Foglia in 51 years. He has tacked another three seasons of 40 goals or more, earning four now in his career, already on par with Darryl Sittler for the most in franchise history.

Were it not for injuries and a 2019-20 season shortened by the pandemic, Matthews may already have six 40-goal seasons to his name.

Last season, Matthews broke Rick Vaive’s franchise record for most goals (54) in a single season by a leaf, becoming the first NHL player in a decade to hit number 60. Matthews needed only 73 matches to get there.

After a slow October, when he was still recovering from off-season wrist surgery, Matthews buried a whopping 57 goals in his subsequent 61 games. This included a streak of 51 goals in 50 Mario Lemieux-style games.

Matthews finished the 2021-22 season with 106 points, the fourth place in a single season for Foglia.

Fit for the time, it’s the second most productive season of any of the franchise in the modern era, behind only Sittler’s 1977-78 season. Matteo already owns three of the 10 seasons adjusted for the most productive era of leaves in the modern era.

He published the three seasons with the best score scored by a Leaf in modern history.

The best seasons with the goals of a Leaf

Rank Player Season Adjusted goals

1

Austin Matthews

2020-21

63

2

Austin Matthews

2021-22

59

3

Austin Matthews

2019-20

56

4

Dave Andreychuk

1993-94

48

5

Giovanni Tavares

2018-19

48

No player in the league has scored more goals than Matthews since joining. Matthews has scored four more goals than No. 2 Alex Ovechkin, arguably the best scorer in history, despite having played 28 fewer games.

Number 3 Leon Draisaitl has 26 fewer goals despite being dressed in 42 other games.

Matthews took two Rocket Richard trophies as the league’s top scorer, the first Leaf ever to do so.

It had been 74 years since a Leaf led the league in scoring before Matthews did so for the first time in 2020.

As it stands, Matthews has already recorded 259 goals in his career, one less than Wendel Clark for the eighth-most in franchise history.

Matthews won’t turn 25 until September. By the end of next season, he should have a place in the top five.

He will inevitably overtake Mats Sundin for first place on that list (he is currently just 161 goals away) if he stays with the franchise for the long term. He has a very good chance of overtaking Sundin as the franchise’s all-time top scorer.

Matthews is over 500 points behind at the moment. However, so far in his career he has averaged 1.12 points per game, behind only Doug Gilmour among the Leafs in modern times. Keep it up and even at 30 Matthews will have the record for points.

Matthews’ first six seasons are not just unmatched by a Leaf, but virtually any period of play.

The only players in modern times with more adjusted goals in their careers during the same period are Wayne Gretzky, Ovechkin, and Mike Bossy.

Modified objectives: first 6 seasons

Rank Player GP Adjusted goals

1

Wayne Gretzky

473

337

2

Alex Ovechkin

475

321

3

Mike Bossy

466

295

4

Austin Matthews

407

294

5

Mario Lemieux

427

285

Matthews’ adjusted 511 points are in 18th place over the past 55 years, the most, once again, of any Leaf.

Of course, Matthews wasn’t just an offensive force. It is a defensive powerhouse. The ice tilts a lot in the direction of the Leaves when he’s out there. Their goal differential is 5-on-5 when he’s been on ice so far: plus-104.

Last season, the Leafs won 65% of their expected goals while on the pitch, a sign that only followed Bruins’ dynamite pair of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand among NHL strikers.

The statistical case of Matthews as a GLOAT is quite overwhelming. He has the peaks and eventually he will have the totals as well. The only feat he’s missing up to this point is team success in the postseason. This is the only indicator that favors the top contenders in that 2017 ranking.

It is difficult to compare the eras, however, in the team department.

Dave Keon, named the best Leaf ever, won four Stanley Cups when the championship had only six teams.

Syl Apps, ranked No. 2, he won his three Cups in the 1940s when the league was just as small. Same deal with Kennedy (# 3), who was among the league’s top players in the 1940s and 1950s, again, when there were only six teams.

The level of talent in the league has never been higher. Competition has never been better. Matthews nonetheless emerged as one of the best.

Sittler (# 4) and Sundin (# 5) have never climbed those peaks among their peers.

Sittler never finished above third place for MVP. Sundin’s best finish was eighth during a 2001-2002 season of 41 goals and 80 points that would have been considered monotonous for Matthews.

Matthews also did his job mostly in the postseason: he scored 17 goals and scored 33 points in 39 career playoff games, including 12 and 26 in his last 26 games and four goals and nine points in seven Leafs games. first round defeat to Tampa this spring.

He was the Leafs best player during the two strongest regular seasons in franchise history – a team record of 115 points last season and a runner-up with 105 points during the 2017-18 season.

What comes next will only reinforce Matthews’ thesis as the greatest Leaf. He will inevitably be the favorite to win a third consecutive Rocket next season and a co-favorite, in all likelihood, for MVP. More rewards (maybe even a Selke) are more likely than not.

More goals. More points. They are safe things. Take the Leafs to a Stanley Cup someday and there will be no arguments, if there is one now.

(Top photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)

Statistics and research courtesy of Evolving Hockey, Stathead, Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick

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