SIMMONS: Sensational Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews closing in on 70 goals but won't likely win MVP

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Sensational Matthews is closing in on 70 but won’t win MVP

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Simmons Column

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What more could Auston Matthews do to bring home his second Hart Trophy?

The answer is probably nothing.

Matthews made his final appearance of this miraculous season on TNT Wednesday night — a national television audience in the United States — and he absolutely left his calling card for all to see.

He scored twice — would have scored three times if the NHL didn’t have their ridiculous offside challenge rules — but it wasn’t his goal scoring that had those broadcasting the game and the between period panel raving about him.

It was the completeness of his game. It was the little things that don’t get talked about often enough. It was his defensive strength. It was his control of the puck and his ability to win puck battles that stood out. It was his vision. Not all of his game can be statistically calculated.

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That’s so much the charm of hockey. There are more statistics available than ever before — and yet so much of what Matthews does, night to night and game to game, isn’t tracked or interpreted by numbers.

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What is being tracked — for all to see — is that Matthews needs 13 goals in the final 14 games of the regular season to hit the 70-goal mark. That still doesn’t sound possible for anyone. Seventy goals in today’s NHL.

When Alexander Mogilny and the rookie Teemu Selanne scored more than 70 goals in 1993, they were two of 14 players to score more than 50 goals that season.

There has been 14 50-goal scorers in the last 10 NHL seasons in total, five of them being Alexander Ovechkin. All of which makes the pursuit of 70 all the more breathtaking and unusual.

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The idea that Matthews can hit 70 this season is rather mind blowing. He scored 60 when he won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player two years ago.

Barring injury, he will score more than 60 this season. And by almost any measure you can find, is playing the best hockey of his life — the most complete hockey — two years after being voted MVP.

And with seemingly little chance of being MVP this year.

The Maple Leafs franchise is now 107 years old. Before Matthews came to Toronto, no Leafs player had ever scored more than 54 goals in a season. Fifty-four became 60 in Matthews MVP season. Now 60 is heading to somewhere near or beyond 70 in what standings wise has become a rather meaningless part of the schedule for the Leafs.

And Matthews is leaving Mats Sundin and Doug Gilmour and Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler behind as he skates and scores his way to becoming the greatest Toronto regular-season player in history.

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And even as the TNT voices raved on about Matthews on Wednesday night while broadcasting the game against the Washington Capitals, the same voices were quick to realize he isn’t a favourite to win the Hart this season.

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Nathan MacKinnon is the favourite. Connor McDavid remains, like Matthews, a candidate to be a finalist. Nikita Kucherov is having a spectacular season as is David Pastrnak.

All five players are having sensational years — along with Vancouver defenceman, Quinn Hughes — but there only be one winner and three finalists for the Hart. And it’s not certain that Matthews, even if he gets to 70 goals, will get enough votes to be top 3, let alone win the Hart.

You can make a clear case for all five forwards.

Kucherov, who lead the league in scoring as of Thursday, has 43 more points than anyone else on his Tampa Bay team. That, by itself, is a statistic beyond compare.

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MacKinnon has been trading places with Kucherov down the stretch, leading one day in scoring and trailing the next. He has scored 28 more points than Matthews, leads the NHL in even strength points, is third behind Matthews in even strength goal scoring, has been an absolute game breaker nightly for the Colorado Avalanche.

Pastrnak is doing in Boston in a very different way what Kucherov is managing in Tampa. He has 38 more points than anyone on his team and the Bruins, stunningly, without Patrice Bergeron, without David Krejci, have the best record in the NHL once again.

McDavid is third in the NHL in scoring, nine points behind McKinnon 10 points behind Kucherov in scoring. But since Jan. 1, not only has McDavid outscored Kucherov and MacKinnon, but he’s 15 points ahead of Matthews in scoring since the calendar began. And at the same time, the Oilers have the best record in all of hockey, just points ahead of Carolina, Florida and Boston.

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In the simplest terms, Hughes is the best player on the ice most nights with the Vancouver Canucks, who are statistically the best team in the Western Conference.

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Matthews scored five points on Wednesday night in a game in which he owned and a game in which he sent a message to anyone across America who hasn’t been watching the Leafs play on a regular basis.

Most of the award voters in hockey work in individual markets. They watch their teams more than they watch any other team. It’s easy to see from afar that Matthews is having a record-breaking season in goal scoring. What’s harder to determine, when you don’t watch someone regularly, when you don’t study their individual games, is everything else they do.

Matthews is having a Hart Trophy type season. The notion that he won’t win the award — assuming he doesn’t — is more about the depth of candidates than it is about anything he can control.

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