Auston Matthews leads Richard race; what are his Hart, Selke chances?

Auston Matthews leads Richard race; what are his Hart, Selke chances?
Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images

With 56 goals, Auston Matthews holds a commanding lead over Leon Draisaitl (50) and everyone else in the race for the Maurice Richard Trophy. Along the way, Matthews has been making history, scoring a lot of goals, and angering opposing fans here and there.

Beyond the sheer sniping supremacy, Auston Matthews impressed because he’s been more than “just” a great goal-scorer this season. His all-around play warrants recognition, which likely explains why Matthews could end up with more than just the 2022 Maurice Richard Trophy.

It’s not outrageous to picture Matthews smiling with the Hart Trophy, and maybe even the Selke. (Assuming voters wouldn’t willfully spread the wealth.)

Not surprisingly, Matthews scoring 49 goals in 49 games has people talking about history, and also the golden moment that is this present. Yet, as memories fade, it’s the records, awards, and Stanley Cups that stick with people.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on awards Auston Matthews could end up winning.

An updated look at Matthews and the rest of the field in the Maurice Richard Trophy race

Entering Saturday’s NHL games, Matthews holds at least a six-goal lead on anyone else in the Maurice Richard Trophy race. For the sake of simplicity and realism, the cut-off point is 40+ goals. Click here for a more extensive goals list.

Auston Matthews: 56 goals, 11 games remaining
Leon Draisaitl, 50 goals, 10 GR
Chris Kreider, 47 goals, 10 GR
Alex Ovechkin, 44 goals, 11 GR
Connor McDavid, 42 goals, 10 GR
Kyle Connor, 41 goals, 10 GR
Kirill Kaprizov: 41 goals, 12 GR

As you can see, Kirill Kaprizov is the only player with an extra game remaining. Otherwise, Matthews and the Maple Leafs could play an extra game, assuming Toronto doesn’t rest its superstar sniper.

(Such rest may honestly boil down to whether or not Draisaitl, Kreider, or an even less likely competitor reaches a boil and makes this race more interesting.)

Pondering possible cold streaks, Matthews’ torrid pace feels less prone to a slump than his two closest competitors. Granted, not by much: Matthews’ shooting percentage is arguably a bit high at 17.8%, while Draisaitl and Kreider are both at 20. Such puck luck tends to slip … again, it tends to. Draisaitl may just be borderline-immune to such slumps, as his shooting percentage hasn’t dipped below 18.5% overall through the last four seasons.

To reiterate: injuries, slumps, and other strange things happen. Matthews has opened up about as comfortable a Maurice Richard Trophy lead as you can ask for, though.

Pondering quick cases for and against Matthews as Hart Trophy winner

There’s some beauty in the objective nature of the Maurice Richard Trophy and Art Ross Trophy. You score the most goals/points, you win. Aside from sometimes-fuzzy tiebreaker debates, that process is cut-and-dry.

That’s also what makes those awards boring once the races are over. Can’t really bash someone on Twitter at their Art Ross pick when the award’s been decided by cold, hard facts, right?

So, with both the Hart Trophy and the Selke, Auston Matthews’ viability comes down to a ton of factors.

If you just look at point totals (or, just glance a column over to [ugh] plus/minus), you may roll your eyes at Auston Matthews Hart Trophy talk.

Connor McDavid: 108 points, +22
Jonathan Huberdeau: 103 points, +32
Leon Draisaitl: 101 points, +20
Johnny Gaudreau: 99 points, +54
Auston Matthews: 97 points, +14

In mid-March, NHL.com’s staff pegged Jonathan Huberdeau as its Hart Trophy leader, and that was before Huberdeau surged past 100 points. Yet, other metrics don’t have Huberdeau in the top 10, sometimes giving Matthews the edge over, say, Gaudreau.

Some of that logic is based on the argument that, when you dig into deeper stats, Huberdeau’s defense looks shabby while someone like Matthews seems polished. Consider this single-season RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey, comparing their even-strength work:

Beyond the many ways people assess a player’s value (and defensive aptitude), there are sub-debates for the Hart Trophy. What happens when a team has two potential MVP-caliber players; could they steal votes from each other? Are people going to get tripped up by assigning meaning to “value” versus picking “the best player?”

Oh, and how do you weigh a historic season for Auston Matthews vs. a goalie like Igor Shesterkin or Frederik Andersen? How do we compare all of them to Roman Josi playing out of his mind, for that matter?

Truly, this year’s Hart Trophy race may boil down to something like when Corey Perry won one: who makes the best impression late in the season. Maybe that impression will be Matthews dropping a hat trick on the Lightning, Huberdeau generating five points the next night, or some splendid performance we haven’t even seen yet.

Matthews probably shouldn’t be top Selke candidate, but he fits the mold

In early February, PHT released its staff Selke “ballots,” and Patrice Bergeron won by a mile.

At times, Selke voting feels like it’s just a step slow. Sean Couturier‘s put together Selke-caliber work, just less so when he actually won it. Pivoting to a different award — yet one that emphasizes defense — Nicklas Lidstrom is a legend, yet his last Norris Trophy was more a lifetime achievement award than a measure of that specific season of his.

Remarkably, Bergeron’s just been astounding this season, with incredible defense leading the charge alongside productive offense. Seeing Bergeron’s RAPM chart (this time both even-strength and on the power play) made me chortle; it’s majestic.

No forward’s even close when it comes to Bergeron in defensive wins above replacement (9.8), with teammate Brad Marchand a distant second at 6.9. Matthews impresses at third place (5.7), but if you truly lean on defense, Bergeron’s close to a no-brainer.

Again, though, different voters look at different things.

A Selke voter may determine that, with Bergeron “limited” to 55 points in 63 games, they may opt for Matthews’ supernatural scoring and still-quite-sound defense. Using those Evolving Hockey RAPM charts one more time, consider that Matthews’ 2021-22 work basically looks like an enhanced version of 2021 Selke Trophy winner, Aleksander Barkov.

Some Selke voters will be wowed by Matthews’ mix of offense and defense, indeed adhering to two-way standards. Others will note just how superlative Bergeron’s been at limiting chances against, while still contributing on offense. Others (wince) will look a plus/minus for way too long.

Maybe most crucially, plenty will weigh how much a candidate kills penalties. That would be the area that hurts Matthews the most.

Thus far, Matthews has only averaged four seconds of penalty kill per game. Generally, that’s the domain of a defensive-minded Maple Leafs forward like David Kampf (2:30 shorthanded TOI per game) and SHG threat Mitch Marner (1:59).

If you want Selke candidates with two-way reputations who kill penalties, you’d swing back to Barkov, Couturier, J.T. Miller, Marchand, and Bergeron.

In many ways, it’s unfair to ding Matthews for his lack of PK time. That’s ultimately a coach’s decision. Frankly, it makes a lot of sense to conserve Matthews’ energy for even-strength and power-play reps. Yet that will register with Selke reps, and arguably that’s fair, particularly when splitting hairs among the elite.

Wrapping up Matthews’ chances at Hart, Richard, and Selke

So, Matthews has a hearty lead in the Maurice Richard Trophy. When it comes to the Hart, my guess is that it’s anyone’s game, and likely comes down to these final weeks of the season.

Personally, I wouldn’t hate Matthews at least getting more mentions as a Selke candidate. Patrice Bergeron deserves it this year, easily, and that’s not an insult to anyone else. He’s just been that great. (A phrase you can utter about Matthews in an impressive array of contexts.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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