Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

As we approach Christmas and anxiously wait to see when we’ll be able to see the Toronto Maple Leafs resume play, there’s one thing, or person, that Maple Leafs’ fans can be thankful for. Auston Matthews.

Related: Auston Matthews Is Better than Leon Draisaitl

It has been five years, two months, and 12 days since Matthews first stepped on the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs and scored four goals versus the Ottawa Senators. Since that day, Matthews has gone on to score 215 more for a total of 219 goals. He is already, after just 261 games played, only 11 goals from entering the top 10 for all-time goals in franchise history.  

Matthews: The Centerpiece of a Franchise Turnaround

More importantly, Matthews has been the centerpiece of an astounding turnaround for an NHL Franchise that was literally the laughing stock of the NHL for over a decade. If we compare the Maple Leafs of the five-plus seasons since Matthews first laced up the skates and the five previous seasons, you wouldn’t think we were talking about the same franchise.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the five seasons before Matthews, the Maple Leafs played 376 games. Their record was 158-176-42 (for 258 points) and their winning percentage was .476.  Their average overall finish was 22nd place, and that was bolstered by a ninth-place finish in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

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In the five seasons with Matthews, the Maple Leafs have played 372 games. Their record has been 206-128-46 (for 458 points) and their winning percentage has been .616. Their average overall finish has been eighth place.  

Related: 2007 NHL Draft: 5 Forgotten Picks

In four fewer games, they’ve won 48 more games and accumulated 200 more points. Their average overall finish in those five seasons has improved by 14 places.  

The Maple Leafs Have Become Auston Matthews’ Team

To this point this season, the Maple Leafs seem to have reached another level. In 30 games, they have a 20-8-2 record (for 42 points) and a winning percentage of .700. They’re in fourth place overall, but only two points out of first place in the league.  

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Matthews hasn’t been the only reason the Maple Leafs have made this amazing turnaround, he’s by any way of judging – the eye test, old school, or new age analytics – by far the best player on this team. This is Auston Matthews’ team.   

Not only has Matthews been by far the best Maple Leafs’ player in the past five years, when healthy he’s been the NHL’s number one goal scorer.  

Can Matthews Become the All-Time Leading Goal Scorer in the NHL?

A lot has been made about Alexander Ovechkin being the league’s best natural goal scorer. In the last five seasons, he leads the league with 194 goals. Ovechkin is not only being touted as the best active goal scorer in the league; but, there are claims being made that he’s the best goal scorer in the history of the NHL.  

Related: Today in Hockey History: Dec. 24 & 25

Matthews is second on the list of goal scorers the past five seasons with 179 goals, or 15 fewer than Ovechkin. But, due to injuries, Matthews has played 28 fewer games. Breaking it down to goals-per-game, Matthews comes out slightly ahead of Ovechkin in goals-per-game with 0.642 for Matthews and 0.632 for Ovechkin.  

If Ovechkin is being recognized as the best goal scorer in the NHL, not only amongst active players but all time, does that mean Matthews can now make that claim? Of course not – well, not quite yet. 

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ovechkin has scored 752 goals in 1228 games played. He sits fourth in the NHL in all-time goals, behind only Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), and Jaromir Jagr (766). Ovechkin has scored these goals in fewer games than the other three and actually edges out Gretzky in goals-per-game with 0.612 to 0.601.  

Matthews has a long way to go before he can think to be in the same class as Ovechkin, or any of those players, in the all-time record book.  

Maple Leafs’ Fans Need to Be Excited that Matthews Landed in Toronto

As Maple Leafs’ fans, we should be as excited as children on Christmas morning. For the first time in our lives, no matter how long we’ve been alive, we’re seeing a player on our team who has not only made a startling difference in this team but is now in any conversation going forward about the NHL’s best goal scorers.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Undergoing a Transformation

And to think, Matthews is only 24 years old. Merry Christmas everyone.    

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]