They aren’t the trophy Leaf fans and Auston Matthews himself wanted the most this year, but Matthews officially becoming the first Leaf since 1955 to win the Hart Trophy (MVP voted on by the PHWA) and the first Leaf ever to win the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player voted on by the NHLPA) should be celebrated for the momentous achievement that it is.

Let’s rewind the clock to October 13 of 2021 when the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. Leafs hockey was back, fans were back in the building, and the atmosphere was jubilant save for one major missing ingredient: Auston Matthews was not in the Toronto lineup.  In August prior, Matthews’ camp and the Leafs‘ medical team decided to proceed with surgery on his left wrist that had been ailing him the season prior, causing him to miss training camp and the opening few games of the regular season.

Matthews didn’t make his season debut in the Leafs‘ fourth game of the season against the New York Rangers on October 18. While the Leafs fell 2-1 in overtime, Matthews led all skaters in shots, and individual expected goals, dominating in every aspect of the game and setting the stage for what would be the best season of his young career.

While Matthews played well early in the season, he wasn’t scoring like he had the season prior. Through 17 games, he amassed seven goals, leaving him 13 behind Leon Draisaitl in the Rocket Richard race. No one complained about Matthews’ play or production — especially knowing he was still getting up to speed after missing camp and starting the season late — but he looked to be facing an uphill battle in the defense of his goal-scoring title from the season prior.

That all changed rather rapidly once the Leafs made their way to LA to begin their California road trip, where Matthews flipped a switch and found a new gear.  The game against the Kings sparked a seven-game goal-streak where Matthews potted 10 goals, highlighted by a hat-trick against the Colorado Avalanche:

The incredible stretch of games became the start of something really special. Matthews quickly climbed back into the race for the Rocket and showed no signs of slowing down, scoring seemingly at will night after night.

He was also climbing the leaderboards in takeaways, too, while noticeably imposing his will on opponents with his 200-foot commitment and physical play. He was establishing himself not just as the undisputed goal-scoring king in the NHL but as the takeaway king as well.

Sometimes, he would even knock out two birds with one stone with one of each on the same play:

As March opened, Matthews was sitting with 37 goals, having scored 30 in his last 34 games. He was playing the best hockey of his career over those 34 games, and yet he actually improved his scoring rate from there.

In March, Matthews played in 12 of 14 games (missing two due to a suspension) and scored 13 goals, while also tacking on six assists. The most significant goal came on March 31 against the Winnipeg Jets when Matthews, at long last, joined the 50-goal club, becoming just the fourth to hit the mark in franchise history.

By this point, Matthews racked up 50 goals in 62 games and 43 goals in his past 46 games. 60 goals started to feel inevitable and the 50-in-50 storyline began to take center stage, although it was no sure thing at this point.

That was until arguably the best week of hockey of Auston Matthews’s NHL career so far.

Across all sports, fans relish those “MVP performances” that solidify a player as the best in their league; those special games where a player steps up and lets the world know that they are simply the best there is in their respective sport.

This five-day stretch between April 4 and April 9 is what I refer to as the week Auston Matthews won the Hart. It featured multiple consecutive MVP-worthy performances.

It started with a game in Tampa Bay, one that had a lot of meaning for Toronto. At this point, the Leafs, Lightning, and Bruins were all battling for second in the Atlantic and home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs. A victory over the Lightning would help strengthen the Leafs’ hold on that spot in the standings. 

After 20 minutes, the game was tied 1-1. Both teams had their chances, but neither had found the breakthrough. Enter Auston Matthews, who received a drop pass from Michael Bunting at the Lightning line before rifling home a vintage snap-shot past the best goaltender in the sport.

These are the types of goals (read: completely unstoppable) that you can do nothing but laugh at. It’s goofy how good this guy is. 

He wasn’t done there. After the Lightning tied it just a few minutes later, with the Leafs looking for a response, Matthews got lost in front of the net and Mitch Marner made no mistake on the feed. These high-skill deflections are yet another example of the mind-blowing diversity within Matthews’ goal-scoring repertoire:

In the third period, Matthews’ dominance continued. After he gave the Leafs the lead, he was clearly determined to put the game away for good.

Roughly seven minutes into the final frame, Matthews circled the zone and sent a nifty saucer pass to Marner between three defenders. As Marner drove the net, Matthews circled behind everybody and found himself wide-open to pick up the puck through traffic. From there, it was that now-familiar feeling of inevitability of what was about to take place with the puck on Matthews’ stick.

He potted his 54th goal of the season, completing the hat-trick and tying Rick Vaive for the most goals in a single season in Leafs’ history:

It was a great goal to put an exclamation mark on an already dominant game. And he still wasn’t done there.

A few moments later, with the puck dumped into the Lightning zone, Matthews went on the forecheck. Within seconds, Matthews stripped the defender and set up Marner for a goal of his own, effectively ending the game as a contest right then and there.

If there was a single night in which Matthews captured the Hart this season, it was the performance against Tampa.

Just for good measure, though, Matthews decided to have another one of those games just three days after his otherworldly performance in Tampa Bay when Toronto visited Dallas. All the buzz around the game was “is this the night?” as the hockey world looked on to see if Matthews would entrench himself in Leafs’ history and break Vaive’s franchise record for goals in a single season. 

All night, Matthews was ripping the puck on net every chance he got, finishing the game with an astonishing 12 shots on goal. Finally, he broke through late in the second period:

Scoring that historic goal made the game forever memorable by itself, but in typical Matthews fashion, he wasn’t settling for goal #55 and a point on the road.

In overtime, Matthews picked the puck up at the blue line and took a few strides backward before putting the team on his back and sealing the game all by his lonesome. 

It was another statement game, his second in as many nights. Matthews had firmly established himself as the favourite to win the Hart while also etching his name in the franchise record books. 

Even with all of that accomplished, Matthews was still chasing two crowning achievements that would firmly place his season amongst the best we’ve seen in the modern era. After those two standout performances against Tampa and Dallas, Matthews had reopened the chance to do something that hadn’t been accomplished since Mario Lemieux in the 1995-96 season: 50-in-50.

On Hockey Night in Canada, against the rival Montreal Canadiens, you already know how the story ends:

Just 27 seconds later, Matthews decided 51-in-50 sounded a little bit better:

There was now only one new height left to reach in the regular season: 60 goals. 

Surprisingly, Matthews hit a dry spell after his 58th, failing to score in five straight and missing a handful of games due to injury. He entered the penultimate game of the season against Detroit still stuck on the number. 

Against the Red Wings, it was clear Matthews decided enough was enough. Late in the second period, Matthews positioned himself in front, took the pass, and made no mistake in tight. 

Early in the third period, with Leafs on the power play, Matthews picked the puck up on the half-wall. The rest is history. 

The first Leaf to ever score 60 goals in a season, the first player in the entire league to score 60 in a decade, and he did it in just 73 games. The most goals in a single season in Leafs’ history and the fourth most points in a single season in Leafs’ history, while also finishing top-10 in Selke votes. He finished first amongst forwards in takeaways and second overall, just a single takeaway behind Alex Pietrangelo despite playing seven fewer games.

Now, he’s the first Leaf to win the Hart since 1955 and the first Leaf ever to win the Ted Lindsay Award. 

From every conceivable angle, this was a truly special, unforgettable season from Auston Matthews. The reality that should be exhilarating for Leaf fans and terrifying to the rest of the league: this probably isn’t even his final form yet.