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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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.