There is one major reason Mitch Marner will not end up making Auston Matthews’ money on his next contract: goals.
This is not a knock on Marner. He is a tremendously-gifted playmaker and can do things with the puck Matthews can’t. Likewise, Matthews can do things with the puck that Marner can’t. Both are invaluable to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the one who just signed a $58 million deal is a much better goal scorer than the one still waiting to put pen to paper.
In the end, goal scoring pays the big bucks and Matthews is more than just a good scorer, or even a great scorer. After scoring his 100th career goal on Thursday in a 6-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s clear he’s an elite goal scorer — one of the best the game has seen since…well, awhile. Before we start throwing out comparisons, let’s look at some of his numbers thus far.
Quickest Maple Leaf to Score 100 Since 1930s
While the Maple Leafs are one of the oldest and most iconic franchises, they haven’t had many formidable goal scorers in their 101-year history. As our own Jeff Seide wrote just last week, only three Maple Leafs are in the celebrated 50-goal club.
That being said, over 80 years is a long time for any record, so when Chris Johnston tweeted that Matthews was the fastest Leafs player to score 100 career goals in the modern era, it didn’t quite grasp the entirety of the situation. After all, the modern era technically refers to the early 1990s, when the league began aggressively expanding into southern markets like Tampa Bay, Florida, San Jose and Anaheim. Even to say Matthews was the quickest Leaf to score 100 since the expansion era wouldn’t do it justice.
With 100 career goals in his first 187 career games, Matthews is the fastest Maple Leaf to crack the century mark since Charlie Conacher in 1933, who only need 162 career games to reach that milestone.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 15, 2019
Of course, the 1930s were also a different time, but let’s leave the ‘era adjusted stats’ discussion for another time.
Matthews is Seventh-Fastest in Last 30 Years to Score 100
Comparing Matthews only to past Maple Leafs doesn’t really say much. What’s much more telling is how he has fared compared to the rest of the league. As TSN notes below, he’s in some pretty good company, needing the seventh-fewest career games to reach 100 career goals in the last 30 seasons.
Auston Matthews had a pair in a 6-3 @MapleLeafs win vs VGK Thursday, the 1st of which being the 100th of his career. As this shows, just 6 players to debut since 1988-89 have done so faster pic.twitter.com/ua9aFevq5t
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 15, 2019
There’s one thing, however, the above graphic does not take into consideration: age. Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of our generation, yet I don’t think we should ignore that he was 20-years-old when he broke into the NHL in 2005-06. The same can be said of Paul Kariya and Pavel Bure, who were also 20 as rookies.
When Teemu Selanne tore apart the league in his rookie season — scoring 76 goals — he was already 22. I’m not trying to take anything away from these Hall of Famers, but if we are comparing them to Matthews thus far in their careers, age should be considered.
Second-Fastest (21 or Younger) in Last 30 Years to Score 100
Once you account for age from the group above, it narrows things down quite considerably. I think age and rookie status are important to factor in, because if you’re older it means you’ve had more time to adjust to a certain level of play. Those who have had more time and more experience at a higher level are more likely to thrive.
As we saw with the TSN graphic above, Patrik Laine reached the 100-goal milestone in eight fewer games than Matthews, but since notching goal number 100, he only has five goals in his last 35 games. So, if you compare the two for their goals-per-game across their careers, Matthews takes the cake.
Seventh-Highest Goals/Game in the Last 30 Years
That 0.54 goals-per-game figure for Matthews is quite incredible. How does it stack up against the rest of the NHL?
In the last 30 years (minimum 150 games played), only six have players have a better goals-per-game: Mario Lemieux, Cam Neely, Pavel Bure, Ovechkin, Brett Hull and Pat LaFontaine. It’s clearly still very early in his career, so the question is: can he maintain it? If he can, it won’t be hard to label him a generational talent.
Most Goals/60 Since Entering the NHL in 2016-17
I’m a big fan of even-strength stats because most of the game is played at five-on-five and I think it says much more about a player’s ability than simply piling up points on the power play.
Since entering the league two and a half seasons ago, Matthews leads the entire NHL in five-on-five goals per-60 minutes, with 1.56. For goals per-60 in all situations, he is also first in the league with 1.79. For what it’s worth, he is also first in individual scoring chances for, with 12.2, fifth in points per-60 (2.63) and seventh in takeaways per-60 (3.36), all at five-on-five.
At just 21 years old, there is still clearly room to grow for the American phenom. After all, in his first three seasons, his goals-per-game has risen from 0.49 to 0.55 to 0.61. That’s why his $11.634 million cap hit for the next five seasons is fair value. His first 50-goal season is surely on the horizon and could have already happened were it not for a couple injuries.
Related: Grading the Maple Leafs’ Forwards
It’s certainly still too early to label him a generational goal scorer like Ovechkin, but if he maintains the pace he’s on, there’s no doubt he’ll earn that label.
*All advanced stats in this piece courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
Nathan Kanter covers the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers. He received his master’s in journalism from Western University in May of 2015 before serving as the first ever Digital Managing Editor at Western’s university newspaper, The Western Gazette, in 2015-16. From 2016-18, he served as the radio play-by-play voice of the Battlefords North Stars in the SJHL. His work has been published in The Hockey News, at Sportsnet.ca and at Dobber Prospects.