Matthews Has Maple Leafs’ Franchise Record in Sight

Earlier in January, I wrote that Matthews has 60 goals within reach, citing that if he continues scoring under his Sheldon Keefe scoring rate, he will hit the elusive 60-goal marker. While it’s a bold prediction, I still think this is a possibility.

In the seven games since the prior article, Matthews has added five goals, bringing his scoring pace under Keefe to 0.76 (22 goals in 29 games). Extrapolating this pace across the remaining 30 games will leave him with 59 goals on the season. With continued chemistry with Mitch Marner, a healthy wrist, some empty net goals, and a bit of puck luck, the dream of 60 is still very much alive.

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

However, Matthews may not have to score 60 to make this an iconic season for Leafs fans.

Leafs’ Single Season Goals Franchise Record at 54

Breaking a franchise record is exciting – especially when it is for an original six-team with as rich of a history as the Maple Leafs.  

The current Leafs’ single-season franchise record for goals is 54 by Rick Vaive in 1981-82. This season also marked the first time the Leafs had a 50-goal scorer, a feat Vaive repeated the next two seasons. Across eight seasons with the Leafs he scored 299 goals, placing him fifth all-time in franchise history.

Rick Vaive #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs
BOSTON, MA. – 1980’s: Rick Vaive #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

While Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk and Gary Leeman have been close to Vaive’s record, with 53 and 51 goal seasons, the record still remains intact 38 seasons later. Since the lockout, John Tavares’ 47 goals last season is the closest a Leaf has been. That could change this year.

Although Vaive’s 54-goal performance was iconic for the Leafs’ franchise, the 1981-82 season is more well-known for a different goal-scoring achievement: Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals in 80 games. Gretzky’s ridiculous 92-goal total represents the all-time, single-season scoring record – one that won’t be broken anytime soon. The 1981-82 season was also the highest scoring season since 1920-21 with an average of 8.02 goals scored per game (a total which has not been repeated since).

Scoring is down significantly since Vaive’s record-setting season (averaging 6.12 goals per game); however, Matthews may still be able to challenge for the record. He would needs 19 goals in the Leafs’ remaining 30 games – a pace he has comfortably achieved this year – especially while playing under Keefe.

Vaive’s record-setting season was unfortunately not accompanied by a successful season for the team, who posted a 20-44-16 record, which did not qualify them for the postseason. If Matthews is able to break the record, expect a different story. In games where he has scored, the Leafs are an impressive 18-3-4. Matthews’ goal scoring has been paramount for the Leafs this year, and if he can continue his dominance, expect a Leafs postseason appearance.

Matthews Still in the Rocket Richard Trophy Race

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy has turned into a three-horse race between David Pastrnak, Alexander Ovechkin, and Matthews. The three superstars sit at 38, 37, and 36 goals (with Pastrnak having an extra game played).

The early favorite, Pastrnak has slowed down recently, with three goals in his previous eight games. Despite Pastrnak’s shooting percentage regressing recently, he still sits at an impressive 59-goal pace, which would be enough for the Rocket in any of the past eight years. If he wants to stay in the race, he will likely have to rely on the Bruins’ power play staying hot (currently second in the league at 27.2%). His 17 power play goals comfortably leads the league, with James Neal and Ovechkin trailing with 12 each.

Maybe too predictable, Ovechkin has also entered into contention. He has scored an awe-inspiring 11 goals in his past 5 games. This explosion moved Ovechkin from 12th to 8th on the all-time goals leaderboard, passing legends Teemu Selanne, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and Mark Messier.

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

While Ovechkin is the natural Rocket Richard favorite in any given year, Matthews may have an outside chance. Ovechkin’s shooting percentage (S%) is currently higher than he has ever achieved in a single season – even significantly higher than in his 65-goal campaign in 2007-08 – suggesting a regression may be in order.

The good news for Matthews is that even if this season doesn’t end with a Rocket Richard, he is in position to be inducted into the Maple Leafs’ history books anyways, breaking a 38-year-old franchise record.

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