When Matt Martin found the back of the net in Monday’s 3-2 Leafs win over the Kings, he became the 15th different Toronto player to score in the young NHL season.
Indeed the Leafs are enjoying an abundance of scoring. (And now you can’t shake an image in your head of Oprah screaming “you get a goal, you get a goal,” can you?)
Heading into Wednesday’s action Toronto leads the NHL with an average of 4.44 goals per game. Four dangerous scoring lines, capable of striking multiple times within a short timespan, are putting defenders around the league on their heels.
At their current pace, the Leafs would net 364 goals on the year, easily bettering the club mark of 337 set in 1989-90. Yes, twenty-eight years later, and we still can’t believe it that Gary Leeman had 50.
Of course, “pace” – an overused benchmark in sports statistics – needs to be placed in its proper perspective. I can’t remember which writer who said the line, but it’s worth repeating: “Charles and Diana were also ‘on pace’ for their 50th wedding anniversary.”
Though with the Leafs’ scoring as equally distributed as it’s been, one can’t help but notice that this year’s squad has a chance of breaking the all-time club mark for most 20-or-more scorers in one year.
Let’s break it down. The Leafs club record for most 20-goal scorers in a season is seven; a mark that they have reached on 3 occasions:
- 1989-90: Gary Leeman, Vincent Damphousse, Ed Olczyk, Daniel Marois, Mark Osborne, Al Iafrate, Lou Franceschetti
- 1985-86: Wendel Clark, Rick Vaive, Miroslav Fryer, Tom Fergus, Marian Stastny, Russ Courtnall, Steve Thomas
- 1980-81: Darryl Sittler, Wilf Paiement, Rick Vaive, Bill Derlago, Ron Sedlbauer, Terry Martin, Dan Maloney
Looking at the start to 2017-18, we like round numbers, so let’s see who had 10% of the projected total – or at least two goals – at the eight-game mark heading into last Monday:
- Auston Matthews (7), James van Riemsdyk (5), Patrick Marleau (3), Nazem Kadri (3), Connor Brown (3), Zach Hyman (3), William Nylander (3), Dominic Moore (2) and Nikita Zaitsev (2).
That’s nine players out of the starting gate. Out of that list, who do we expect to reach 20 for sure?
Matthews, JVR, Kadri, Nylander and Brown should be locks. All five of them reached the plateau last year, and show no signs of slowing down.
Marleau had 27 tallies last season and found the net again versus Los Angeles to give him four goals in nine games. Barring injury (oh right, this is Patrick Marleau, the iron man. never mind), let’s count six, so far.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Zach Hyman, while effective as the grinder on Matthews’s and Nylander’s line, clearly doesn’t have the finishing prowess of his centre and right winger. Expecting him to double his total from last year might be a bit optimistic.
Moore may have an outside shot after out-dueling Eric Fehr for the centre spot on the fourth line. But his career best, 18 goals with Tampa Bay, was established seven years ago.
Then there a pair of wild cards in Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner.
Bozak has not had a great start to the year, but he did connect in the victory over the Kings to get (yes I’m saying it) back on pace. His career best was 23 goals in 2014-15, the only season in which he has tallied twenty or more times.
Marner appeared to be in a well-publicized sophomore slump before finally appearing to break out with a pair of assists on Monday. He was just one goal shy of 20 in his phenomenal rookie season and will surely make his way back up the ranks of the forward depth chart.
Even though he hasn’t scored since opening night, we’re not betting against his potential explosiveness. So let’s project Marner as the seventh Leafs 20-goal man for the year.
We’ll slot one of Hyman, Moore and Bozak as the eighth, to re-write the Leafs’ record book.
For the record we’re not expecting a 20-goal output from any of the defencemen – despite Zaitsev’s quick start – or from Leo Komarov or Matt Martin.
It’s worth noting that the NHL record for most 20-goal scorers in one year is eleven. It wasn’t established by the high-scoring Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, or even the 1970-71 Boston Bruins team that scored 399 times while famously boasting the top 4 scorers in the league that season.
Instead, it was the 1977-78 edition of the Bruins – a ‘lunch-pail’ gang coached by none other than Don Cherry – that set the mark.
To put in perspective how incredible the record is, the B’s had 20-goal years from each member of its top three lines, one member of its fourth line, and a defenceman.
The leading lamplighters were:
- Peter McNab (41), Terry O’Reilly (29), Bobby Schmautz (27), Stan Jonathan (27), Jean Ratelle (25), Rick Middleton (25), Wayne Cashman (24), Gregg Sheppard (23), Brad Park (22), Don Marcotte (20) and Bob Miller (20).
Grapes’s squad advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that season, only to bow out to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens. Boston totaled 335 goals in 1977-78.
Again, it wasn’t about the highest-scoring team of all-time, but the most balanced.
The Leafs aren’t likely to get eleven 20-goal men out of this year’s squad (but that’s ok, because neither has any other team in history).
However, eight- to set a club record – is definitely within reach.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.