The 2021 shortened season is fast approaching and so is the excitement of hockey finally coming back after a prolonged absence. It’s only fitting that predictions and guesses of what will happen are sure to follow in the days leading up to puck drop as well as once the campaign finally gets underway.
One such area of intrigue is how Auston Matthews will followup his impressive performance in 2019-20 in which he flirted with 50 goals and was in the conversation for the Rocket Richard Trophy all year long. While the number of games this season has been cut down to 56 due to the ongoing pandemic, the idea that he can reach the half-century mark in such a short amount of time doesn’t seem so far fetched given how talented he is.
So why not see if can achieve the milestone and how the rest of his career plays out using NHL 21? That’s right folks, the third edition of my own-going series of simulating a Leafs’ career with an NHL video game has finally returned! If this is your first time reading one of these, check out the other two posts below:
Before I begin the simulation, here are some ground rules I will be following:
- I’m not allowed to control the Leafs at all during the sim, so I randomly selected a team prior to starting
- Auto-Sign is on so I don’t affect Free-Agency
- Injuries are left on
- The sim ends once Matthews retires from the NHL
- Every five years, I’ll post his stats along with any awards he might have won
- I’ll update you guys on anything noteworthy regarding the Leafs and who won the Stanley Cup
With the 2021 campaign set to begin, the Leafs forward core currently looks like this:
And here is Matthews'(who currently sits at 90 overall) stats heading into Year 1:
Year 1 (2020-21)
The Leafs had an impressive regular season that saw them finish with 104 for seventh in the league. But the Atlantic Division was stacked this year, so Toronto ended up in fourth. Matthews missed time due to injuries and only managed to play 61 games while nearly hitting the 40 goal mark. Around the trade deadline, the Leafs added Ryan Murray and Michael Stone for defensive depth.
Matthews sat out for most of the Leafs’ playoff run and only appeared in one game while registering just one point. But his team made it all the way to the third round only to be ousted in six games by the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to get swept by the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Leafs legends Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick retired at seasons end.
Year 2 (2021-22)
Toronto had quite the busy offseason as they added Dougie Hamilton to a one-year contract and re-signed Frederik Andersen to a four-year extension at $9.45 million per year. The changes resulted in some regression as the Leafs finished with 11 fewer points and sat 14th in the NHL. On the plus side, Matthews was healthy for the entire season and recorded 70 points on the year.
The Leafs finally broke through in the postseason and reached their first Stanley Cup Finals in over 50 years, but were eliminated in five games by the Vancouver Canucks. Matthews was certainly not to blame, as his 14 playoff points were tied for third on the team in scoring. Former Leafs Jason Spezza and Cody Franson called it quits at the end of the year.
Year 3 (2022-23)
Hamilton was given a four-year extension of his own, but it came at the cost of Morgan Rielly who went on to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes. In spite of that big loss on the blueline, the Leafs had a monster season by finishing fifth in the league and just five points behind the Ottawa Senators for the top spot in the division. Matthews also played well with 94 points on the season, finishing tied for third the NHL scoring leader.
A completely different story in the playoffs though, with the Leafs eliminated in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning while Matthews seven points in six games certainly gave his team a chance. The Anaheim Ducks won their second Cup in franchise history in a rematch against the Senators. Tyler Bozak retired during the offseason.
Year 4 (2023-24)
In free agency, the Leafs decided to bring back James van Riemsdyk while adding Tristan Jarry and Jordan Staal. Despite a lot of money being tied up across the lineup, both Matthews and William Nylander each got an extension with the former getting a one-year deal.
Matthews saw his offensive output take a hit while the Leafs improved to second place in the NHL and their first division title in over two decades. But like the season prior, the Leafs were taken out in the first round, this time by the Rielly and Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the Lightning went on to win their second Cup in the last four years. Both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally hung up their skates at the ripe old age of 44.
Year 5 (2024-25)
Jake Muzzin and Zach Hyman were cap casualties as they signed with the Vegas Golden Knights and the Ducks respectively. Even still, the Leafs remain tight on cap space which sparked up questions of what the future holds for Matthews as he has one year left under contract.
It was another solid season for the Leafs as they finished second in the Atlantic once again, while Matthews scored 43 goals and 86 points on the year. But for the third straight year, the Leafs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It was to the Senators in five games this time, who went on to lose the Cup to the Ducks for the second time in this simulation. Matthews played well in the short series as his five points were tied for the team lead in scoring.
Five years into the sim, take a look at Matthews’ stats:
Year 6 (2025-26)
The Leafs’ years of spending big money on free agents come back to haunt them as Matthews could not come to terms with Toronto. He ended up signing with the New York Islanders on a seven-year contract (gross).
On his new team, the Islanders had a strong showing in the regular season with the second-best record in the entire league. Meanwhile, Matthews had a point-per-game season as he finished with exactly 82 points. That success carried over into the playoffs where New York made it all the way to Finals only to be ousted in five by the Colorado Avalanche. In spite of the loss, Matthews impressed with 27 points in 23 postseason games.
JVR called it a day on his playing career at the end of the season.
Year 7 (2026-27)
To help bolster the team’s offence, the Islanders added Danton Heinen and Mason Shaw into the fold via free agency. The Isles played well during the regular season with a second-place finish in the Metro, while Matthews finally surpassed the 50 goal plateau for the first time in his career (which was second in the NHL in that department).
In the playoffs, New York made it to the second round but ended up being eliminated in seven games by the Pittsburgh Penguins who went on to lose in the Finals to the Minnesota Wild (revenge for 1991 I guess). Matthews’ 13 points in 11 postseason games were good enough for second on the team behind Mathew Barzal in scoring.
Both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier decided to retire at the same time.
Year 8 (2027-28)
Some of the Islanders’ new arrivals from free agent frenzy include Robby Fabbri, Michael McLeod, and Ty Dellandrea. But with cap space tight, it appears likely that Anthony Beauvillier will be departing in a year’s time.
New York finished two points short of a President’s Trophy and was the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Matthews had a 50-50 scoring performance for 100 points on the year, his highest in the sim so far. In spite of all that, the Islanders were eliminated in the second round yet again by the Stanley Cup finalist. The Hurricanes sent Matthews and company home backing before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks for the title.
After sitting in free agency for the entire year, John Tavares called it a career.
Year 9 (2028-29)
As expected, Beauvillier departed in free agency and went on to sign with the Golden Knights. The Islanders locked in Tristen Aucoin (a computer-generated player) as a replacement and acquired an ageing Patrick Kane.
Overall, it was a rough year for both the Islanders and Matthews as the team just missed the playoffs by five points. Matthews also missed a little over half the season due to injuries and saw his point totals drop to 47. The Red Wings, who have been cruising throughout the sim so far, finally broke through and won the Stanley Cup.
Year 10 (2029-30)
This deep into the simulation means computer-generated players are beginning to take over the league and that’s what the Islanders brought in during 2029 free agency.
Matthews’ overall slightly dipped as he now sits at 91 overall but still remains one of the faces of the league. He did play the whole year mostly healthy and improved his scoring output to 76. On the flip side, his team rebounded from the season prior and won the Metropolitan Division. Despite this, the Isles saw their postseason run end in the first round as the Florida Panthers took them out in seven games. The Senators finally won their first Cup of the sim after coming close many times before. Phil Kessel was on that roster and he retired at the end of the playoff run.
Here are Matthews’ stats as we hit the decade mark of the sim:
Year 11 (2030-31)
It was a pretty quiet offseason for the Islanders since they didn’t make any major transactions during the free-agent frenzy.
It was another fantastic regular season for the Islanders and Matthews, with the former sitting comfortably at second in the Metro while the latter recorded 84 points on the season. At the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired Rielly from the Hurricanes to reunite him with Matthews.
The momentum did not carry over into the playoffs as they were eliminated in the second round by the Red Wings. In the Finals, the Leafs lost in six games to the Wild. Andersen sat out the entire year as a free agent and decided to retire at seasons end.
Hard to believe, but Matthews has yet to win any awards throughout the sim. When will he finally breakthrough?
Year 12 (2031-32)
Despite having an ample amount of cap space, the Isles didn’t do much in the offseason due to having a number of key players in search of a new contract. One of those guys was Matthews, being on the final year of his deal that pays him $15.17 million (!!!) a year.
The regression of the Islanders began this season as they barely squeaked into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team, with only three points separating them from their city rivals in the Rangers. In a contract year, Matthews only managed to put up 71 points and just missed the 40 goal plateau. New York made it all the way back to the Finals but lost in six games to the San Jose Sharks, with Matthews’ 26 points slotting him third on the team in scoring. Rielly called it a day on his playing career at the end of that playoff run.
Year 13 (2032-33)
After a pretty successful run on Long Island, Matthews (now at 89 overall) took his talents to Columbus and signed a two year, $20.64 million deal with the Blue Jackets. He started his tenure in Ohio on the third line as a left-winger for some reason.
Despite a decent regular season, Columbus was stuck in an ultra-competitive division with all but one team (the Hurricanes) finishing with over 90 points in the standings. Meaning the Blue Jackets missed out on the postseason by just six points. The Metro winner, the New Jersey Devils, went on to win the Stanley Cup. Despite the setback, Matthews had an impressive showing with 92 points on the year.
Year 14 (2033-34)
During free agency, the Blue Jackets signed Dylan Cozens to a three-year contract and then got Matthews to agree on staying in Columbus for another two seasons.
Columbus recovered from the year prior and returned to the playoffs as the first Wild Card team. While Matthews had another fine season from a statistical perspective, it was nowhere close to earning him any major individual awards. The playoffs were an unmitigated disaster for the Blue Jackets are they were swept by the Senators in the first round. The Rangers won another Cup at the end of the postseason.
Year 15 (2034-35)
The big move of the offseason was locking up Alexandre Louis to a seven-year contract while Pierre-Luc Dubois departed to sign with the Wild along with Mitch Marner.
It was quite a rough going for the Blue Jackets as they finished dead last in their division and were nowhere close to a Wild Card spot. On the bright side, Matthews once again impressed with a 93 point campaign to lead his team in scoring. The Montreal Canadiens, who also captured the President’s Trophy, snapped their lengthy Cup drought and won the NHL title at the end of the season.
Let’s check in on Matthews’ stats after hitting another five-year mark:
Year 16 (2035-36)
While the Blue Jackets have an ample amount of cap space available, Matthews was not ready to make any commitments to the team beyond the coming season.
As you could probably imagine based on the roster you have just seen, the Blue Jackets were unable to crash the postseason part but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort as just two points separated them from the Hurricanes for the final playoff spot. One silver lining in all of this was Matthews was by far the team’s MVP with a 99 point campaign in his contract year. The Devils went on to capture Lord Stanley’s trophy.
Year 17 (2036-37)
Instead of trying to test the open market, Matthews decided to remain a Blue Jacket for another two years. Despite approaching his forties, he remains a top player in the league at 90 overall.
The Blue Jackets bounced back and finished the 2037 campaign second in the Metro division, while Matthews had another decent performance with 86 points on the season. Columbus made it as far as the second round where the Red Wings eliminated them in six games. The Leafs made it back to the Finals but lost in five games to the St. Louis Blues. Marner called it quits at the end of the season.
Year 18 (2037-38)
Entering his age 40 season, Matthews sits at 86 overall and remains without a new contract with Columbus. How much more does he have left in the tank?
It seems that every other season, the Blue Jackets miss out on the playoffs and that remained the case this time as they were nowhere close to claiming the final Wild Card spot in the East. Matthews’ numbers fell off a cliff as he put up a putrid 57 points, which was his lowest of the simulation yet. To make matters worse, the Islanders won a Cup before he did.
Year 19 (2038-39)
Matthews made it to free agency but had to wait over two weeks before deciding to stay in Columbus for two more seasons.
This was a mediocre season for Columbus but by some miracle, they just barely managed to squeak into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season with 87 points. While Matthews might have fallen down to 81 overall, he still had a decent season with 64 points. The Blue Jackets carried that momentum into the postseason where they made a miraculous run to the third round but were denied a fairy tale ending by the eventual Cup winners, the Florida Panthers, who took them out in five games. Matthews missed a significant portion of their playoff run and only got a single point in 10 games.
Year 20 (2039-40)
The Blue Jackets added a few computer-generated players as Matthews gets set to play an NHL game in four different decades (!).
Columbus had a strong showing in the regular season by finishing stop both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. At 42-years-old, Matthews lead his team in scoring with 83 points (I burst out laughing when I saw his stat line for the first time). Correct me if I’m wrong, but that has to be an NHL record for most points by a 42-year-old.
Despite all of this, the Blue Jackets failed to turn that into a deep playoff run due to the Lightning eliminating them from the first round in seven games. The Oilers won another Cup at the end of the postseason. Nick Robertson retired at the end of the season, meaning Matthews has outlasted a player who in real life made his playoff debut in 2020.
We have made it two decades into the simulation, so here’s where things stand:
Year 21 (2040-41)
Matthews once again hit the open market and this time departed from the Blue Jackets to return to New York City, signing a two-year contract with the Rangers.
His first season in Manhattan did not go well from a team perspective as the Rangers finished last in the Metro and were one of the worst teams in the NHL that season. Matthews was certainly not to blame due to him posting 64 points in spite of his advanced age. In a Finals rematch, the Panthers toppled the Oilers to capture the Cup.
After a combined 25 years in the NHL, Matthews announced his retirement at the conclusion of the season. With his post-playing days set before him, let’s look back on his stats:
After finishing what proved to be a lengthy simulation, I have mixed emotions about the final results. On one hand, I was impressed that Matthews managed to remain in the NHL for as long as he did and stay productive throughout the majority of it. On the other, I’m very disappointed in the fact that he failed to capture a Stanley Cup and didn’t win a single individual award like the Rocket or the Art Ross. Each time I took a look at his numbers, I would think to myself surely this would be the time he finally snags one only to see a computer-generated player finish a season with 78 goals (no joke).
It’s not without a lack of trying that prevented Matthews from reaching the hockey mountain top, as he had five postseason appearances where his team made it to the third round or later. As for the Leafs, they made a few Finals births but also couldn’t overcome the final hurdle.
So was this sim a success or a failure? If you view from the longevity of it, then yes things worked out well for Matthews. But on what he was able to accomplish in his 25 years in the league, then it was a catastrophic failure.
Don’t take the results of this simulation as biblical proof of what is actually going to happen in Matthews’ career. At the end of the day, it’s a video game that always has a different outcome the more times you test it out (look no further than my first career sim in which the Leafs won three Cups). Regardless, I hope this was a fun journey for watching me getting increasingly frustrated that the sim engines were not functioning in Matthews’ favour at all.
Hopefully, Matthews in real life doesn’t take as long as his video game self to score 50 goals in a season.