The history in play for Maple Leafs down the stretch

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the beneficial aspects of not having the richest history (at least in terms of standout individual performances) is that there is plenty of room for edits in the franchise record books. As brilliant as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid have been and will continue to be, there are certain mountains within their respective organizations that are simply too steep for one to ever scale.

Of course, there is permanence to Toronto’s history, too. But unquestionably, more opportunities to leave an indelible mark compared to other storied and formerly dynastic outfits — certainly at the individual level.

Still there are reasons beyond the franchise’s seasons of ineptitude that high bars continue to endure. However successful the franchise, it takes something special to make amendments to the books, and this season there are a few special somethings currently at play.

Here are some historical nuggets — some real and important, some semi-arbitrary — to watch for over the final two-and-a-half months of the season:

Auston Matthews has a good shot at surpassing Rick Vaive's single-season goals mark. (Getty Images)Auston Matthews has a good shot at surpassing Rick Vaive's single-season goals mark. (Getty Images)
Auston Matthews has a good shot at surpassing Rick Vaive’s single-season goals mark. (Getty Images)

Strive for Vaive

Certainly the most relevant bit of historical significance to keep tabs on resides with Auston Matthews and his pursuit of Rick Vaive’s single-season goals mark. With 36 tallies through 51 games — or a pace that has him on a path to score 58 times — Matthews currently tracks to usurp 54 goals and take down the record that’s stood for 38 years.

Setting the bar a notch lower, Matthews is pretty comfortably on pace to register just the sixth 50-goal season in the franchise’s history, and a threshold only met by Dave Andreychuk, Gary Leeman and Vaive.

The American is also flirting with the 40th 60-goal season in the league’s history, and just the third since the turn of the century. While not a certainty whatsoever, the further Matthews dips into history does increase his likelihood of him becoming the franchise’s first-ever Rocket Richard winner. He’s currently just one goal behind Boston’s David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals.

Scoring at an unmatched clip has always been the expectation of Matthews should he manage to stay healthy. So far that’s proving to be correct.

Dynamic duo

Last season, Mitch Marner and John Tavares combined to form one of the most dominant tandems in franchise history, together totalling 182 points. This season it’s Matthews who Marner’s enlisted (in part because Keefe has paired them on the first line) to extend into the list of most profitable partnerships in single-season history.

Here’s a list of the highest-scoring tandems in the 100-plus seasons (minimum 85 points apiece):

  • 1993-94: Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk (210 points)

  • 1977-78: Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald (204 points)

  • 1975-76: Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald (193 points)

  • 1980-81: Wilf Paiement and Darryl Sittler (193 points)

  • 1989-90: Gary Leeman and Vincent Damphousse (189 points)

  • 2018-19: Mitch Marner and John Tavares (182 points)

At current time, and despite the latter half of the equation missing 11 of the 51 games, Matthews and Marner are tracking to exceed last season’s tandem with 185 projected points. For his part, Matthews is on pace for a career-high 96 points in addition to what would be a record-breaking 58 goals. While he’s seen a scoring uptick since the switch to Sheldon Keefe, most recently scoring 20 goals in his last 21 games, Matthews’ points-per game average has remained essentially unaffected by the transition to Keefe.

That’s where Marner comes in.

Scoring at a superior 1.25 points per game, Marner is riding a trajectory toward 89 points despite missing roughly 13 percent of the year. However under Keefe, Marner has increased his output to a sizzling 1.45 points per game. Adjusting for that, Marner projects to cover last season’s career point total by one.

While obviously ambitious, Matthews and Marner could use this math to set targets at 96 and 95 points, respectively, and scale a little higher among dominant duos in franchise history.

Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are on pace to be one of the team's highest-scoring tandems of all-time. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are on pace to be one of the team's highest-scoring tandems of all-time. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are on pace to be one of the team’s highest-scoring tandems of all-time. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Filling the net

It’s not just the seasons from Matthews and Marner that have the Leafs on course for one of the most productive campaigns ever.

Trailing only the Panthers and Avalanche in goals per game, the Leafs project to score 297 times this season, or the eighth-highest total for the franchise. Like an increase to Marner’s totals, though, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Leafs will exceed 300 goals for just the seventh time in history.

Since Keefe took over on Nov. 20, Toronto is scoring at a 330-goal rate over an 82-game sample, which would be the second-highest total in franchise history. Adjusting for his influence, 310 goals is the mark the Leafs are currently pacing for, which would mark the fourth-highest team total despite arriving in-season.

Breaking Babs

While it may be more likely the Leafs miss the postseason altogether, a torrid run down the stretch drive could force an amendment to the “accomplishments” section in Babcock’s coaching resume.

At present time, the Leafs are pacing seven points behind the record 105-point season the previously celebrated head coach helped the franchise establish two years back. That difference will be nearly impossible to make up in 31 games, considering that it’s taken something special (and a 18-7-3 record) just to return on a path to the postseason.

However if the Leafs were to maintain the 114-point pace they are on since the coaching switch, they would come only one point shy of thee franchise mark, while also registering the second-highest total in team history.

That said, 98 points is a far more likely scenario, and would mark a top-10 total all-time, anyway.

What about Fred?

Because the workload will be there, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Andersen collects the 15 wins necessary to break his own single-season mark. However, the more likely scenario for the netminder is that he settles for climbing one rung on the franchise wins list.

He’s six victories away from passing Curtis Joseph for fourth all-time, and will most likely unseat Felix Potvin at some point next season.

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