John Tavares wants Auston Matthews to get the recognition he deserves

Dean Chaudhry
April 6, 2024  (2:46 PM)

Auston Matthews carries the puck into the offensive zone in search of a scoring opportunity
Photo credit: Kevin Allen - USA Today Sports

Having spent such a long time in the league, Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares knows how special Auston Matthews truly is. However, he believes that Matthews isn't getting the credit he deserves.

As the regular season is coming to an end, conversations regarding NHL awards are rising, and once again, the Hart Memorial Trophy is bringing about a lot of debate. Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, and Auston Matthews are the clear the frontrunners, but Tavares believes his sharp-shooting teammate deserves credit for another piece of hardware as well; the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the league's best defensive forward.
The NHL's scoring race has heated up over the last few weeks after McDavid caught up to Kucherov and MacKinnon. Currently, Kucherov is atop the league with 133 points and he is followed up by MacKinnon's 131 points, and McDavid's 128 points, while Pastrnak ranks 5th with 106 points. MacKinnon has the most goals within the trio with 48, while McDavid has an astounding 97 assists and is 3 shy of reaching the 100-assist mark, something that hasn't been done in over 30 years.
Matthews, on the other hand, has 63 goals and is 7 away from becoming the first player to reach 70 goals since 1992-93 when both Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each scored 76 in what was Selanne's rookie season. Matthews would also become just the 9th player in NHL history to reach that lofty mark as well.
While we understand that Matthews' offensive game is elite and will always have him in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, Tavares mentions the Frank J. Selke Trophy as something Matthews has earned with his underrated two-way play. It's hard to imagine a 63-goal scorer being a part of that conversation, but Matthews is a unique talent defensively. In fact, his defensive stats might shock you.
For starters, his even-strength Corsi-For % is 55.2, CF% rel is 6.6, Fenwick-For % is 56.9, and his FF% rel is 8.3, all the while starting 34.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone, and more specifically, 41.7% of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone. His overall CF% is 59.9 and FF% is 61.3, where the average player is generally hovering around 50%. He also carries a ridiculous 14.4 CF% rel and 15.8 FF% rel. Most of these numbers mean nothing to the fair-weather fan, but there are also some stats that are way easier to digest where Matthews also excels.
Matthews is 4th among all forwards in takeaways this season with 79 and trails only Mathew Barzal (83) and Leon Draisaitl and Evgeni Malkin (80). Within that quartet, he has by far the lowest amount of giveaways at 52 compared to Barzal's 80, Draisaitl's 83, and Malkin's 54. He is also 3rd among all forwards in blocked shots with 87 and trails only Ryan Poehling (91) and Beck Malenstyn (89) - two very defensive minded players with nowhere near the point totals that Matthews has racked up this season.
Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy 6 times, and while it is well-documented and understood that he is one of the best defensive forwards of all time, Matthews' numbers are rather similar to Bergeron's in his Selke-winning years. His 79 takeaways are far and above Bergeron's career-high of 67 that he reached in 2015-16 and his 87 blocked shots trump his career-high of 67 that he reached in 2011-12.
Then, when you compare their analytical numbers, they're eerily similar as well. Bergeron won the Selke in back to back years in 2021-22 and 2022-23 and during those seasons he had a CF% of 63.9 in 2021-22 and 62.2 in 2022-23, while carrying a FF% of 64.9 in 2021-22 and 61.6% in 2022-23. Those numbers as great as they are would be on the same playing field as Matthews who currently sits with a CF% of 59.9 and a FF% of 61.9. Even the CF% rel and FF% rel are close with Bergeron racking up 15.2 and 14.1, respectively, and 15.3 and 15.2, respectively, the year before.
By no means am I trying to establish that Matthews is as a good of a defensive player as Bergeron, however, the numbers speak for themselves this season. Matthews has improved his game off-the-puck to whole new heights this season, and at the very least, it should be recognized.
The Hart Trophy is handed out to the NHL's most valuable player. In theory, that should encompass the player's value to his team with and without the puck. His defensive metrics should matter almost as much as his offensive stats, but the league has very rarely taken that into consideration, very frequently awarding the Hart Trophy to the same player who won the Art Ross Trophy, with some deviation of course.
Compared to Matthews' Hart Trophy counterparts, MacKinnon has 67 blocked shots, 38 takeaways, and 27% of his shifts start in the defensive zone. McDavid has 37 blocked shots, 66 takeaways, and 31.3% of his shifts start in the defensive zone. While Kucherov has 33 blocked shots, 55 takeaways, and 27% of his shifts start in the defensive zone. Pastrnak has 19 blocked shots, 52 takeaways, and 31.3% of his shifts start in the defensive zone.
Tavares was adamant on Saturday that his superstar teammate is "more than just a trigger man." His full quote goes into detail on his overall game, the adjustments that he's made, and how he can affect the game with both his offense and defense:
"He should be right there. He should be, to me, he's right in the mix and should be nominated for both [the Hart and the Selke]. I think the type of season he's having, what he can potentially do here from a goal-scoring standpoint. And to be able to do that and just to be as well-rounded as he is, it's just even more impressive. He's not just a trigger guy or always just put in offensive situations. He plays in all areas of the game. He carries play, wins so many puck battles. Obviously, his takeaways are exceptional. I don't think he always gets enough credit for just how smart he is and just positions he puts himself in, especially how hard teams defend him and how he always consistently finds openings, open space. And just the timing and all those sorts of things. So he's just as well rounded as the players you're gonna find in our game today. So it'd be great to see him get the recognition on both those fronts."
-Tavares on Matthews

Matthews might not have the assist numbers that would propel him into the Art Ross conversation, but it's hard to deny his value to the Maple Leafs on and off the puck. It is tough to argue against Kucherov and Pastrnak's value to their respective clubs because the former has more assists than second place on the Lightning has points, while the latter has 106 points to Brad Marchand's 2nd highest total at 65.
All 5 players have a legitimate reason as to why they should be named the MVP of the league, but only one of them will earn votes for both the Hart and the Selke, let alone have a chance to win them. That player is Auston Matthews and he deserves to be a finalist for both, in my opinion.
6 AVRIL   |   480 ANSWERS
John Tavares wants Auston Matthews to get the recognition he deserves

Do you think Matthews has a legitimate chance at winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy this season?

Yes, his numbers speak for themselves25352.7 %
No, they'll hand it off to someone else9920.6 %
At the very least he should be a Finalist12826.7 %
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