In what was undoubtedly the most physical, rough and tumble year of Auston Matthews career, it appears Matthews is still viewed as quite the gentleman.
Sportsmanship combined with a high standard of play.
— NHL (@NHL) June 5, 2021
Yep. He’s our gentleman despite seeing his penalty minutes increase from 8 in 2019-20 to 10 this season, and his hit total jump from 40 to 57 this year despite playing in 18 fewer games. Yes, Auston remains a Lady Byng finalist for the second straight year, and after finishing second in voting last season, it’s very possible that he’s the front runner this season because Brian Campbell is the only defenseman who won the award in the past 65 years. Facing Spurgeon and Slavin would probably make Matthews the favourite, and I wonder if voters will treat the Byng as Matthews consolation prize for having an incredible season, but not being able to leap past Connor McDavid for the Hart.
Auston has already addressed that individual accolades don’t quite cut it for him when he was announced as a Ted Lindsay Award finalist, and with already winning the Rocket Richard Trophy this season, it is been a year of recognition for a player who receives for too little attention for playing in a small market like Toronto.
While I’m sure there are plenty of angry uncles that will appear in our Facebook mentions or the comment sections arguing that this makes Auston soft in some way, it is worth noting that he was an over a hit per game player for the first time in his career this year, he had nearly four hits a game in the playoffs, and he did all this while playing the game at the high level he does and with his opponents riding him as hard as they do.
Of course the Byng isn’t about not hitting or not taking penalties, it’s about being a gentleman. And the perception is that Auston Matthews demonstrates great sportsmanship, and while I’m not sure how the PHWA assesses that attribute, I’d never call into question the knowledge of such a well informed group.
As disappointing as the last couple of weeks have been, it was a great year to watch Auston Matthews, and as the NHL continues to announce award finalists, there could be a potential nod as a Hart finalist in his future, and I wouldn’t rule out that Auston could also be named to the Second All-Star team before all is said and done. Still I’d assume Auston would have traded it all for a second round playoff game.