It wasn’t the Stanley Cup Auston Matthews was handed Tuesday night, nor even the Prince of Wales Trophy as a Cup finalist.
But to be just the third Maple Leaf in the 98-year honour roll of the Hart Trophy as MVP and the first in franchise history to win the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ pick for most outstanding, his feats should not be overlooked as Matthews continues to seek team success in playoffs.
Matthews beat fellow centre Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers by 119 first place votes to 29 in regular season balloting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the Hart, while New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin was third, garnering 24 first ballots.
Earlier in the league awards show from Tampa, Matthews was named recipient of the Lindsay as voted by his peers, a trophy inaugurated in 1971. McDavid and Nashville defenceman Roman Josi were Lindsay finalists.
Matthews, who was Hart runner-up to McDavid last year, led the NHL in goals a second straight season, this time with 60 in 73 games. That helped power Toronto to a franchise record 54 wins and 115 points, Matthews supplying the game-winning goal 10 times. On the defensive side, he excelled in areas such as takeaways with 92, second highest in the league.
It had been 67 years since Teeder Kennedy last won the Hart for the club, with defenceman Babe Pratt its only other winner, in 1944. In addition to Matthews trailing McDavid last year, Doug Gilmour was second in Hart voting to Mario Lemieux in 1993.
While Matthews thanked the Leafs, their fans — “there’s nobody like you guys” — and his family, awards host Kenan Thompson of Saturday Night Live fame chirped at the closing credits “nice to see the Leafs win something in June” as their Cup drought passes the 55-year mark.
McDavid has won two Harts and led the NHL in points again this year with 123, but as the Oilers struggled at mid-season, Matthews was a catalyst all year for Toronto, while topping McDavid in faceoff percentage and scoring 10 more even-strength goals.
The Hart is named for Cecil Hart, former manager coach of the Canadiens, who won three Cups between 1924-31. The original trophy was donated by Cecil’s father, David, and was replaced by a newer version in 1960.
Toronto winger Michael Bunting was named to the all rookie team, though lost in Calder Trophy voting to Detroit defenceman Moritz Seider.