Matthews expected to set Maple Leafs records after 50-goal season

TORONTO — Mats Sundin has seen enough of Auston Matthews over the years to make a proclamation about the 24-year-old center.

“He’s got a great chance to eclipse a lot of, if not most, of the most prominent offensive franchise records in Toronto Maple Leafs history when all is said and done,” Sundin said this week. “He’s got to stay healthy, of course, and stick around with the Leafs for a long time. If that happens, I mean, just look at the pace he’s on. He’s doing it already.”

Sundin knows of what he speaks. He scored the most goals (420) and points (987) in Toronto history, playing 981 games.

“He could break both of those,” Sundin said. “He’s already on his way. Just look what he’s been doing.”

Matthews became the fourth Maple Leafs player with a 50-goal season when he scored into an empty net during a 7-3 home victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Rick Vaive (1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84), Gary Leeman (1989-90) and Dave Andreychuk (1992-93, 1993-94) also scored 50 for Toronto.

Matthews has scored 438 points (249 goals, 189 assists) in 396 games, averaging 1.11 points per game and .629 goals per game. At his current pace, Matthews would become the Toronto goals leader in 272 games, which projects to early in the 2025-26 season. He would break Sundin’s points record 496 games from now, slightly more than six seasons away.

“Like I said, he’d have to stay in Toronto to do it. And why wouldn’t he?” Sundin said. “There is no better place anywhere to play hockey, no place where they care more about the team and the players, than Toronto.”

Video: WPG@TOR: Matthews scores No. 50 into empty Jets net

Matthews is in the third season of a five-year, $58.17 million contract ($11.634 million average annual value) he signed Feb. 5, 2019. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 NHL season.

“In my opinion, he’s in the perfect spot,” Sundin said. “I wouldn’t trade Toronto’s group of forwards, with [Mitchell] Marner and John Tavares, William Nylander and the rest, for anyone. 

“With all the foundation pieces there and all the assets they have on the team like Marner, the future is bright. And with him being so young, the opportunity is there for him to break a lot of the records.”

Doug Gilmour said he feels the same way. Gilmour, who set the Maple Leafs single-season record with 127 points in 1992-93, said Matthews reminds him of Jaromir Jagr, who is second on the NHL points list (1,921) and fourth in goals (766).

“I agree with Mats. With the way the rules are today, there is no limit to the records Auston or even Marner might break one day including mine,” Gilmour said Friday. “And the thing about Auston is, it’s not just his shot. He’s such a big body (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and he can protect the puck like Jagr did. He can bull his way to the net and there is nothing opponents can do about it.”

Vaive, who set the Maple Leafs single-season record for goals (54) in 1981-82, said it’s a matter of time before Matthews breaks that mark.

“The way he’s going, he might do it by next week,” Vaive said this week. “I mean, I was known for my shot and his is just as lethal. But it takes more than that. Opponents know you are going to shoot like they did with me, so you have to know how to find space, to create space to get it off. He’s outstanding at that.

“The sky’s the limit for him.”

Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has scored at least 34 goals in each of his six NHL seasons and is tied with Darryl Sittler for the most 40-goal seasons in Maple Leafs history (four). Sittler, who scored the second most points in Toronto history (916), understands Matthews likely will move ahead of him in 40-goal seasons as early as next season.

“The thing that impresses me the most is that Auston has improved every season,” Sittler said Friday. “His effort on the backcheck and in the defensive zone is tangible. He just keeps getting better and better.

“Now you see, when protecting a lead, he’s out there at the end of the game. The great players do that. Sidney Crosby. Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews in his prime. And now Auston.

“Hey, he could have scored 50 in the previous two seasons too if it wasn’t for the pandemic. The way this kid is going, the best is still yet to come.”

Matthews scored 41 goals in 52 games last season and 47 goals in 70 games in 2019-20. He leads the NHL this season in 62 games.

Sittler said there is one obstacle Matthews must overcome to take the next step: a lack of Stanley Cup Playoff success. Toronto has lost all five of its playoff series with Matthews. 

The Maple Leafs, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, SNO, SNP, NBCSP, ESPN+, NHL LIVE), are one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division.

“He’ll be judged on that just like the rest of us were,” Sittler said. “Have some of that (playoff success) and he’ll be at another level.”

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