(Image courtesy of RollingStone.com)
There is no denying Auston Matthews’ ability to excel at both ends of the ice. On nearly a nightly basis, he creates chances seemingly at the same rate he prevents them. The question then becomes; which is he best at? To take it one step further; which can he be THE best at first? While it’s common knowledge players often become better defensively as they spend more time in the league, refining offensive natural tendencies into the more universally approved “defense first” mentality, I decided to look at how age influenced a players’ ability to win major awards. With this information, I hoped to unveil a reasonable expectation of when Matthews could land his first major award that all of his peers were eligible for, not just the ones who had yet to play 26 NHL games and thus were up for the Calder trophy.
Right away, it becomes obvious the Selke can be viewed as something more easily attained when a player has established himself in the league. With the voting coming from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, it’d be fair to assume they tend to favour players with more of a resume (9 of the last 10 winners had a Cup ring to wear on stage to accept their Selke).
While this seems to work against Matthews’ bid for the trophy, it may lend itself to another theory. Those players were on good teams. Thus, putting them under the spotlight, making the PHWA pay more attention to their team and giving those players more exposure to their jury. As has been noted, #TheLeafsAreActuallyGood and for the first time in years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are appointment viewing. Love them or hate them, they’re one of if not the most exciting team in hockey and Matthews is at the centre of it all. While his defensive game is far from perfect, he continues to improve game to game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bring one home in the next few years.
The same theory could be applied to a Hart trophy, however, a player in the limelight has a better chance of winning it. While the Cup theory isn’t quite there (4 of last 10 winners had one) the teams the players on the trophy were representing have been (regular season) powerhouses. Chicago, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington, Anaheim, and Vancouver. 5 Presidents’ trophies and 7 Cups between them in the past 10 years.
If you want to add to your hardware, it seems the best step is to first add to your hardware. The issue for Matthews’ case is there was so much changeover from last year’s team that it becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly who/what’s to blame for the team’s success so far. 7 rookies, 4 of them in the top 8 in rookie scoring and a reliable goalie have them 11th in points % in the league after finishing 30th last year. However, a climb into the top 5 in that category for the Leafs next year could see Matthews get strong consideration to become the first Leaf since 1955 to see his name on the prestigious award.
Last but not least, the Rocket Richard Trophy. This is the only one of the 3 that is quantifiable and thus immune to a discussion as it is not voted on by “experts”. Right now, Auston sits 3rd in the NHL in goals and 8th in shots. More impressively, he’s on pace for the highest goal and shot total from a rookie since Ovechkin’s 52 goal rookie campaign. This despite a 13 game goal drought. If Matthews was able to have even 4 goals go in over that span (a 25 goal pace, which he currently sits 3 goals away from), Crosby and he would be in a tight race to the finish.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know if Matthews would’ve gone on the tear he did had that slump not stretched the length it did. The point is, Matthews isn’t far off from being one of the best goal scorers in the league. With Ovechkin nearing the age of inevitable decline, that title may soon be up for grabs.
All of this is to say, we don’t really know what Matthews will be best at. He has an obvious knack for scoring and has shown he has the skillset necessary to contend for a Selke Trophy. If we see the Leafs atop the NHL standings in April next year, I’d be willing to bet Matthews’ game escalates with them, aiding his bid for the Hart. Either way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for him to become the first player to ever win all 3. As far as which one comes first, gun to my head, I’m taking a Rocket Richard as the first non-Calder trophy to grace his name. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a hell of a show along the way.