There hasn’t been a Toronto Maple Leafs player reach the 50-goal plateau since before Auston Matthews was born, however the star forward is on the verge of doing so after scoring his 49th of the season earlier this week in Boston.
Matthews is producing at the highest rate of his career this season and is riding a three-game goal streak within a 10-game point streak. He has 12 goals in 11 games this month alone.
Toronto plays the Jets Thursday, and if Matthews, who scored five goals in nine games against Winnipeg in 2020-21, can extend his active streak to four games, then he’ll make modern Leafs history.
John Tavares scored 47 goals in his first season with the blue and white, back in 2018-19. It was the highest total for a Maple Leafs player in a quarter century, and the best showing from a Leaf in the salary-cap era.
Matthews tied that cap-era mark and set a personal record with 47 in 2019-20. He broke the franchise’s cap-era record against the Panthers this past weekend.
The 2016 first-overall pick would’ve surely scored 50 goals in 2020 had the regular season not been cut short due to COVID-19.
Despite the franchise’s storied history, there have been a dearth of 50-goal scorers in Toronto.
With Matthews on the doorstep, not to mention on pace to set a new single-season franchise goal record, we thought it was worth looking at the five previous times a Maple Leafs player hit the coveted half-century mark.
In chronological order:
Rick Vaive scored 54 in 1981-82
The previous record for a Maple Leafs player was held for two decades by Frank Mahovlich, who scored 48 in 70 games in 1960-61. Darryl Sittler had four 40-goal campaigns during his time in Toronto and Lanny McDonald did it thrice, but Vaive took the baton from those two Leafs legends in the early 1980s, and in his second full season with the Buds became the team’s first player to reach 50. Vaive’s 54 goals that year was good for fifth place in the league. The franchise record he set was one of the only bright spots for the team that year, as it finished a disappointing 20-44-16 and missed that playoffs. The franchise record has held for nearly four full decades.
Rick Vaive scored 51 in 1982-83
Vaive proved he wasn’t going to be a one-season wonder, following up his franchise-record season by notching 51, which was good for seventh in the NHL that year. Vaive had 79 points in 78 games to finish second on the team behind John Anderson, who was a point-per-game player through 80 games. The team fared slightly better than the year prior, finishing 28-40-12 and qualifying for the playoffs before being quickly eliminated by the Minnesota North Stars.
Rick Vaive scored 52 in 1983-84
Although he couldn’t quite match the 54 he scored two years prior, Vaive finished with a career-high 93 points despite his team missing the playoffs once again. Vaive’s goal-scoring prowess flew slightly under the radar in large part due to the fact the Leafs were not a contender.
Vaive’s three consecutive years with 50-plus goals was the pinnacle of his 13-season NHL career. In fact, only two players scored more goals than Vaive between 1981-84. Vaive had 157 goals in 231 games, while Mike Bossy potted 175 in 226 games and an early-20s Wayne Gretzky scored an absurd 250 in 234 outings, including his NHL-record 92-goal season in 1981-82.
Gary Leeman scored 51 in 1989-90
Leeman was coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons, including scoring 32 in 61 games in 1988-89, before his first and only 50-goal triumph. Leeman was one of eight players to bury more than 50 that year, falling 21 goals behind Brett Hull’s league-leading 72. The Maple Leafs were a 38-38-4 team that season and got the boot in five playoff games against St. Louis. Leeman managed to score only 47 total goals in the final 208 games of his career after his 51-goal campaign.
Dave Andreychuk scored 53 in 1993-94
Andreychuk, whose 640 career goals are 15th all-time, gelled with his teammates in Toronto from the moment he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in 1992-93. Andreychuk scored 25 goals in his first 31 games in Toronto before potting 53 in his first full season with the Leafs. Andreychuk was frequently the beneficiary of Doug Gilmour’s setups. Gilmour was coming off a Selke Trophy-winning season and finished 1993-94 with 84 assists, second only to Gretzky’s 92. Wendel Clark also had an impressive campaign alongside Andreychuk and Gilmour, scoring 46 goals in just 64 games. As they did in 1992-93, the Maple Leafs advanced to the conference finals but fell short of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.