The first time I saw Auston Matthews was at the 2016 World Cup. He was one of the young guns for Team North America, and it was the final preliminary round game against Team Sweden.
Almost as a courtesy, Matthews had been added to the team after having been the first-overall pick of the 2016 entry draft. There was a spot reserved for him on the fourth line following his career with the USNTDP and a year in the Swiss League. By this third game of the event, No. 34 was on the left wing with Connor McDavid in the middle and Mark Scheifele on the right on the first line.
And on the first shift of this Sept. 21 mid-week afternoon game, which became one of the most entertaining and enthralling contests in the history of the sport, Matthews scored on a rebound at 0:30 after briefly stickhandling while on his knees. That was Matthews at the start.
Now, six seasons deep into his career, he has established the NHL single-season record for goals by an American-born player, his 56th on Thursday surpassing Jimmy Carson’s 55 in 1987-88, the season before he was sent from Los Angeles to Edmonton as the centerpiece of the package exchanged for Wayne Gretzky.
(The centerpiece, that is, if you don’t count the $ 15 million, which, rest assured, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington certainly did.)
Matthews, the putative Hart Trophy leader, is on his way to perhaps the best season by a US native in league history, his targets likely including Pat LaFontaine’s 148-point (53-95) 1992-93 season and Brian Leetch’s 102-point ( 20-82) Norris Trophy winning 1991-92.
And the California-born and Arizona-reared 24-year-old is on track to become the greatest US-born player in league history, though the center has a way to go before he’s included in the same sentence as Leetch and Chris Chelios, the latter of whom I have at the top of my list.
My top 10 Yanks: 1. Chelios; 2. Leetch; 3. Mike Modano; 4. Patrick Kane; 5. LaFontaine; 6. Matthews; 7. Keith Tkachuk; 8. Jere-me Roenick; 9. Joe Mullen; 10. Phil Housley.
Forgive me if I cannot stop guffawing at Brendan Gallagher’s attempt to lecture Tim Stutzle about diving, considering that the Montreal forward has been one of the NHL faces of embellishment pretty much since he entered the league 10 years ago. That while also sharing the designation with Brad Marchand as the poster boy for goaltender interference.
Charged with faking an injury, Stutzle meanwhile has missed the two games following Tuesday’s match against Montreal in which the winger sustained a knee injury on a hit from Nick Suzuki.
I’m not sure I quite understand the annual angst over the wording of the Hart Trophy that is awarded, “To the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” and why those campaigning to change the award from MVP to Best Player think that would remove subjectivity from the equation.
Neither do I understand advancing the argument – at all – that maintaining the Hart as the MVP award it has been historically since its inception in 1924 somehow is unfair to either McDavid or Leon Draisaitl because they play for the same Edmonton team.
Was it unfair to Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman when they played for Detroit? Was it unfair to Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic in Colorado; or to Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey in Edmonton; or to Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Boomer Geoffrion, Dickie Moore or Doug Harvey in Montreal? It must have been.
The one I truly never understood was how Bobby Orr didn’t win the Hart every year from, say, 1969 through 1975, when in fact No. 4 won it in just 1971, 1972 and 1973. Was there anyone of greater value? Apparently the electorate believed so, selecting Phil Esposito as MVP in 1969 and 1974 when they both played for the Bruins.
If you change the instigator to a five-minute major plus a game misconduct, and referees are instructed to call the infraction any and every time a player who’s thrown a legal check is confronted by fisticuffs, maybe that will end this epidemic of fights following legal hits.
The good news – and it is good news – is that there will be fewer and fewer Jay Beagle’s coming along while more and more Trevor Zegras’ enter the NHL.
Finally, if one can trace the trajectory of a career by the identities of the player (s) for whom a guy was traded, here is a clue about how it went for Carson, whose 55-goal season came in the second year of his career:
1) 1988, traded from LA to Edmonton in package for Gretzky; 2) 1989, traded from Edmonton to Detroit in package for Adam Graves; 3) 1993, traded from Detroit to LA in package for a 32-year-old Coffey; 4) 1994, traded from LA to Vancouver straight up for Dixon Ward.