Let me start by saying, as of today neither guy would be my pick for league MVP. Both players are in my top five (fourth and fifth) but not the frontrunners. If the Sabres somehow make the playoffs, or if Matthews somehow ends up with 60+ goals and the Leafs get home ice in the first round, my mind could be swayed. But as it stands this is just a pointless article that will compare two players who are in all likelihood, good friends. So, let’s do this!
Captain Jack’s one-man-band
The Game Winning Goals is the key stat that stands out, five! The Sabres started off well and were 10-6-3 on November 16th. Since then, they have won just eleven games, which means Eichel has scored the game-winner in about half of the Sabres wins during that stretch! He truly has put the team on his back and is realistically the only reason the Sabres aren’t dwelling in the basement of the whole league.
Overall, Eichel is third in goals (28), seventh in points (61) and seventh in goals created (24.5). The second overall pick in 2015 has 22 more points than the second-highest scoring player on his team (Sam Reinhart). That is the second-largest disparity between two teammates in the league. The largest gap is on the Avs where Nathan MacKinnon has 25 more points than Cale Makar (keep in mind, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog have missed half the season). Eichel has his fair share of MVP moments too. Whether it is his seventeen game point streak that only ended only because he mysteriously missed a game.
Or his four-goal game against the Senators in November that got the Sabres out of a rut
Or maybe even his penalty shot OT winner against his “arch rival” Connor McDavid and the Oilers just a few weeks ago.
As spectacular as the American has been this year, with the Sabres being so lifeless, it hurts his case more than it helps. If the Sabres miss the playoffs for the ninth year in a row (five points out as of writing) then Eichel can’t seriously be considered as the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Sabres making the playoffs would take a Captain America type effort (see what I did there?) from Eichel so if they do manage to make it, Eichel should be considered the favourite for the Hart.
AMats magical season
Over the last month, Auston Matthews has played some of the best hockey of his career. He has scored the most goals (15) and the third-most points (23) in the league since December 15th. It is not just his stats that have boosted him into the MVP conversation. Multiple times in the past couple weeks when the Leafs have needed a spark, Matthews has delivered. Whether it was his incredible “Savardian” spinarama pass against the Hurricanes to start the comeback
Or his game-tying bomb with just under 15 seconds left to earn the Leafs a point and cap off a two-goal, 26 minute night against Patrik Laine and the Jets.
The 22-year-old notched his league-leading 25th even-strength goal on Tuesday against the Devils, he added a power-play goal and an empty netter to secure his second-ever hat trick. Matthews has been sensational at both ends of the rink this season.
He is third among forwards in takeaways with 51 and his faceoff percentage is the best it has ever been at 55.6%. Despite all the criticism that seems to follow him, Matthews is playing like an $11.6 million dollar player. With injuries to two of the Leafs’ most important defencemen in Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly and the inconsistency of Fredrik Andersen, Matthews will need to continue to score at a torrid pace to keep the Leafs in a playoff spot.
If Matthews can become the first player since Steven Stamkos in 2012 to score 60 goals (at the rate he’s been going recently, it isn’t unlikely) and catch David Pastrnak for the Rocket Richard then he deserves to be in serious consideration for the Hart. What hurts Matthews is how good the players around him are. Mitch Marner and John Tavares will both likely hit 80 points and William Nylander is on pace for 75 points, Matthews is incredible, but so are his teammates.
So… Matthews or Eichel?
If it comes down to the two, the difference in the strength of their respective teams is the major key here (shoutout DJ K). Eichel is more valuable to the Sabres than Matthews to the Leafs, but Eichel’s team isn’t very good. Nonetheless his performance this season cannot be understated. As good as Matthews has been in the last month, Eichel has the edge during the entire season. Man, it would’ve been nice to see Matthews under Keefe for the whole season. Of course, there is almost half of the season left to play, so one can still overtake the other. In the end, it probably won’t matter because neither is going to win the Hart Trophy this year. But they both will be involved in MVP discussions for years to come.