Does The Toronto Maple Leafs Best Player Need to Pass More?

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs / Richard T Gagnon/GettyImages

There's no doubt that Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews is having one of the best seasons of his life.

Through 65 games, he has already scored 55 goals. Matthews is on pace to eclipse his own Toronto Maple Leafs record setting mark of 60 goals in a season and is on pace to score 68 goals before the regular season ends. That's more than was even predicted by a downtown Toronto psychic.

With all those goals, the Leafs could have benefited from assists as well. Matthews has 27, which is the same number as his teammates Max Domi and John Tavares. In comparison, William Nylander and Mitch Marner each have 51 helpers this season.

While there's no disputing Matthews' ability to snipe as one of the best goal scorers on the planet, there has begun to be chatter that he needs to pass more often. A big reason for the discourse is Matthews' place in the Hart Trophy race. Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, and Nikita Kucherov appear to be the frontrunners for the award.

Does The Toronto Maple Leafs Best Player Need to Pass More?

According to the NHL, through 68 games, MacKinnon seems to be leading the charge to win the NHL's MVP honors. He has collected 42 goals, 13 fewer than Matthews. However, the Colorado Avalance center has also recorded 74 assists on the campaign, giving him a league leading 116 points.

McDavid has far fewer goals than Matthews with 25 in 63 games. The Edmonton Oilers captain has relied on his passing to amass 106 points on the season. He's done this on an incredible 81 assists. Kicherov has scored 40 goals along with his 74 assists.

When looking at these other NHL stars, critics suggest Matthews should be keeping pace by setting up his teammates more often.

Are they right? Absolutely not.

Kucherov has 32 secondary assists. MacKinnon has 36 and McDavid has 30. Auston Matthews has 10.

Secondary assists are not the same as primary assists. First of all, the NHL gives them out liberally., Secondly, they are not repeatable. Primary assists are. This means that the acquisition of secondary assists is partially random. Whether or not a player scores after you pass it to the guy who passes it to the guy who takes the shot is largely out of your control.

Kucherov has 34 more points than Matthews. But just looking at primary points, he is only 12 points ahead of Matthews. McDavid would be just 2 points ahead of Mattehws, and MacKinnon is just 5 points ahead. (stats

If we look at 5v5 stats only, Matthews has only 3 primary assists. The other three have at least 15 each. Matthews is only 2 points behind the 5v5 leader in total primary points.

In each case, Auston Matthews' defense and goal-scoring ability make up for the slight discrepancy in total primary points. Second assists add to the numbers and make them gaudy, but they don't mean anything from a practical or functional perspective.


Auston Matthews doesn't need to pass more. He's just been slightly unlucky that the player who passes to the player who takes the shot isn't scoring more when this happens. It's random. Yet, if we look at only primary points, he'd still be in the Art Ross conversation, while specializing in goals, which matter more.