It’s been 67 years since a Toronto Maple Leafs’ player won the NHL’s Hart Trophy, so it’s no wonder that Leafs Nation is wound up about the very real possibility that Auston Matthews will be a finalist for league MVP.
It’s become apparent that the Hart Trophy race has come down to the five forwards that have broken away from the pack in the scoring race. Connor McDavid, Jonathan Huberdeau, Matthews, Leon Draisaitl and Johnny Gaudreau are the favourites, and there is not a whole lot separating them statistically.
A strong argument can be made for Igor Shesterkin, Roman Josi and Cale Makar all winning the Trophy as well but that’s not what is likely to happen given the buzz in the media. They are, after all the folks that vote on the award.
One can argue who has the best supporting cast, who is the better all-around forward, which team is the best, and…ultimately, which of the five is most valuable to his team. What is harder to argue, though, are the numbers.
Here is a look at the five leading forward candidates in seven relevant categories:
54 Matthews 10
50 Draisaitl 8
41 McDavid 6
34 Gaudreau 4
26 Huberdeau 2
2/ Primary Points
41 52 93 McDavid 5
50 37 87 Draisaitl 4
54 31 85 Matthews 3
34 49 83 Gaudreau 2
26 57 83 Huberdeau 1
3/ Primary Points Percentage*
93 251 McDavid 37% 5
87 251 Draisaitl 35% 4
83 241 Gaudreau 34% 3
85 270 Matthews 31% 2
83 294 Huberdeau 28% 1
*Percentage of primary points scored in
relation to how many goals his team has scored
4/ Team Standings*
Huberdeau FLA 5
Matthews TOR 4
Gaudreau CGY 3
McDavid EDM 2
Draisaitl EDM 2
*Where each player’s teams rank in the overall NHL standings.
5/ Strength of Division
Atlantic 619 Total points
Pacific 605 Total points
+50 Gaudreau 5
+30 Huberdeau 4
+21 McDavid 3
+20 Draisaitl 2
+12 Matthews 1
64% Matthews 5
63% Gaudreau 4
62.5% McDavid 3
58.5% Huberdeau 2
57% Draisaitl 1
*Fenwick and Corsi added together and divided by two
If you go strictly by the numbers and you were voting on the Hart Trophy today – the nod should go to Matthews. Steven Stamkos is the only center in the past three decades to score 60 goals, and that wasn’t even with him playing in the middle the entire year. If Matthews hits 60 goals – and that looks quite probable – he will become just the seventh center in NHL history to score that many in a season.
I put a value of five points for the first-place finisher in six of the seven categories, and one point for the last-place finisher. I doubled the value for goals scored as, for me, it is the most relevant category. You win games by scoring more goals than the other team, so while other categories are important and part of the complete evaluation of a player’s value, it is only fair to put a bigger emphasis on goals scored. Even if there wouldn’t have been more emphasis on goal scoring, Matthews still has the best overall number.
It should be noted that I’m one of the scouts that ranked Patrik Laine ahead of Matthews in his draft year, and up until a couple of years ago, was still of the opinion that Laine might have a better career.
Obviously, both players are far from finished, and a lot can happen over the next decade to alter things…but…I was wrong.
Laine wasn’t the first to score 50 goals or win the Rocket Richard Trophy. He also won’t be the first to hit 60 goals and finish top five in league scoring. And he certainly won’t be a Hart Trophy finalist. Matthews has blossomed while Laine has been hot and cold.
Matthews and Jack Roslovic weren’t traded for Pierre-Luc Dubois either. Toronto made the right decision in taking Matthews first overall, and he deserves full credit for developing into a prolific regular-season sniper who centers one of the top teams in the league this season.
So…that’s one draft ranking I got wrong. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. Matthews has developed into an NHL superstar, and while I’m no fan of him or the team he plays on, it is good for the league that fans of Canada’s biggest hockey market have something tangible to cheer about after 55 years of frustration.
Unless the Leafs and Matthews cool down in the final stretch of the regular season or McDavid catches fire and manages to hit the 50-goal mark while leading Matthews by 20 points or so, I would suspect that Matthews will be named MVP for the 2021-22 season.
Yes – he plays with Mitch Marner and that certainly helps him achieve those impressive numbers but Huberdeau, Gaudreau, Draisaitl and McDavid also have talented teammates that they get to play with, particularly on power plays. One of the reasons Marner is so productive is because he usually plays with Matthews, so it goes both ways.
Matthews has enjoyed a season that no other Toronto forward has ever equalled, and as much as it pains Habs’ fans to admit it, he is a clear favourite to capture hockey’s most cherished individual award this season. Congratulations are in order regardless of the final outcome.