Matthews’ landmark season could end with MVP award

It has been 67 years since any member of the maple leaves had his name inscribed on the Hart Trophy.

As we try to put a few mind-blowing months of Auston Matthews into perspective, this might be the best place to start. The 24-year-old center must now be considered the favorite for the NHL’s most coveted individual material after going from 50 goals to 58 in nine days.

He broke a string of records in the process and set himself on the path to earning the NHL’s second 60-goal, 100-point campaign in the salary cap era.

Matthews also closed the gap on league scoring leader Connor McDavid, his biggest challenger in the Hart conversation. Although it seems inevitable that McDavid will claim another goalscoring crown this season, he only holds a slight advantage over Matthews in points per game (1.50-1.48).

That seems to reflect nicely on the Leafs star, who became the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 to score 50 goals in 50 games on Saturday night. He keeps legends company now.

There is reason to believe this is the best individual season of any Leafs player, perhaps surpassing Doug Gilmour’s 127-point campaign in 1992-93. Gilmour finished second in Hart Trophy voting that year, as did Matthews last season.

You have to go back to Ted Kennedy in 1955 to find the last member of the organization who was deemed most valuable to his team in a season.

In addition to his prodigious goal scorer, Matthews impressed defensively. The Leafs took advantage of more than 63 percent of scoring opportunities in his 5-on-5 minutes. That could help him earn Selke Trophy votes as the NHL’s top defensive forward, which Leafs president Brendan Shanahan predicted would happen in March 2020.

“I always thought when he came along that he was one of those rare players who has the ability to lead a league in scoring and also be their best defensive player. I mean there’s very few guys who do that in hockey,” Shanahan said then.

These are the goals that are getting all the attention now, and rightly so.

Matthews scored 43 at even strength, 10 more than any player in the league. He’s scored in 14 of Toronto’s last 16 games. And, at the rate he’s going, a 70-goal season can’t be completely ruled out.

There are 10 games left in the season and Matthews is already in incredibly rare territory.

If he finishes strong, those “MVPs!” chants at Scotiabank Arena will be more than justified.

Josi’s 100 watch

It’s not just that Roman Josi has a shot at becoming the NHL’s first 100-point defenseman in three decades. It is when he does it.

The Nashville Predators captain is in his 31-year-old season, which is a stage in a player’s career where one would expect to see a decline in performance. And yet, Josi came into Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh having broken his previous records with 19 goals and 87 points.

There have been 14 individual seasons in NHL history where a defenseman has reached the century mark, but no one has made it into their thirties. Paul Coffey was the oldest, hitting the mark at 28 while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989-90.

Josi entered Sunday needing 13 points in his last 12 games to reach 100. He had never had more than 65 points in 10 years with Nashville.

“Continuous improvement,” Predators coach John Hynes told reporters this week. “He’s a special player. He’s a special guy. He’s a special leader.

#AskCJ

How do you think a playoff contender would rather make the playoffs — blowing down other teams’ doors or earning hard-fought wins?

@sir_bowtie

You just want to get into the playoffs healthy, if we’re being honest. You’d probably prefer hard-fought victories as well, but any style of play that generates confidence should be seen as a positive.

How are NHL players paid for the playoffs?

@arrownius

Players do not receive any part of their salary during the playoffs. There is a $20 million (US) playoff fund divided among teams based on their progress.

If you could cover a team based on geographic location alone, who would you cover?

@LeftCoastLeafs

Unless or until the NHL puts a team in London, England, I’m happy where I am. Toronto is a fantastic place to work and live.

What do you remember from your first @Blue jays game you went to #SkyDome?

@MWBower

I remember it extremely well. The Dome opened in June 1989 and I was lucky enough to attend a Jays second series game against Detroit. My dad and I were supposed to go to Oshawa that day to buy him some work clothes, but instead we went to Toronto and he spent the money on a scalper’s bills. We sat 24 rows at the 500 level and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

You attend a Jays game as a fan. What are you eating? What are you drinking? Are you snacking on something?

@TradeTheCoach

I’m in center field on the fan deck drinking craft beer and eating a hot dog. I can’t wait to make it!

Are you still running? Most important question of all!

@sdevenport88

I am. Immediately after the filing of this column, I will be leaving for the 711th day in a row. I have no intention of stopping.

farewell thought

It was so refreshing to see the city come alive this weekend, with bustling streets and a palpable buzz in the air. The Jays’ return to town and a big Leafs-Canadians game on Saturday night gave us a little taste of what could be a special spring in those parts. Enjoy it. We all deserved it.

Chris Johnson writes about sports for NorthStar Bets. NorthStar Bets is owned by NordStar Capital, which also owns Torstar, Star’s parent company. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterchris

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