The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the NHL’s North Division, while franchise player Auston Matthews leads the NHL in goals.
While both of those facts go a long way in making this the best and most memorable regular season in years, arguably in Toronto Maple Leafs history, what is crazy is how much better both could be without a freak injury to Matthew’s wrist.
Playing the Flames back in late February, Rasmus Andersson checked Matthews into the boards and injured his wrist. The Leafs star missed only two games (four in total this season), but he played for at least two weeks unable to shoot the puck with his customary power.
Those two weeks didn’t ultimately cost the Leafs or Matthews too much – they will win the division, and Matthews will lead the NHL in goal scoring – but they did deprive everyone of seeing something historically special.
Toronto Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews Would Have Made History
Matthews currently has 38 goals in 47 games, a very impressive total. He has eight more goals at 5v5 than anyone else, and nine more overall.
That is a pace of eight goals every ten games, and would give him 66 goals over a full 82 game schedule. Now, imagine, if you will, how many goals he’d have if the Leafs power-play didn’t inexplicably stop scoring for a month, and if Matthews hadn’t played about ten games without being able to shoot.
Now, hypotheticals are meaningless, and often stupid. In this case, however, I think it is at least worth talking about what he could have done if not for the wrist injury because of how stark the contrast between those games and the rest of the season is.
Directly after the injury, the Leafs won both games without Matthews, an impressive accomplishment. But it’s not so much the games he missed that are the problem, it’s the games where he tried to tough it out that really illustrate what could have been.
In the month between the injury to Matthews wrist and the game on March 27th against the Oilers where he again looked like he could shoot the puck like his old self, Matthews went ten games where he scored in just two of those games, for three goals total (vs his average of eight).
The Leafs record in these games was 4-6 and it was their worst stretch of the year because it includes almost half of their total regulation losses (13 total). In games where Auston Matthews can shoot the puck as his normal self, the Leafs are 29-7-5 which is a league leading points percentage of .777, which would put them in first place overall, by a mile. (stats for this article from ESPN.com).
This is a points-percentage that puts them 11th all-time, and 3rd best in the modern era.
As for the goal scoring – there are 11 games where Matthews wasn’t himself if you count the one where he got injured in the first place, and he somehow scored 3 times during his convalescence.
If we subtract this stretch from his totals then he has an unbelievable 35 goals in 36 games, which is an 80 goal pace. If we compare how hard it is to score goals today vs when Wayne Gretzky scored an NHL record 92 goals in 81-82, we get a true scope of Auston Matthews’ accomplishments.
Had Matthews not hurt his wrist, we could be talking about the best goal scoring season of all-time. Whereas most hypotheticals border on the ridiculous, I think it’s fair to say that had Matthews not been injured for a month, he could have scored 55 goals in a 56 game season, which would perhaps be the single greatest accomplishment in the history of the NHL.
Matthews wrist injury prevented him from having the best goal-scoring season in the history of the NHL. Regardless, what he’s done this season is comparable to what Gretzky did in 1981-82.