When you sit down and think about who the best players in the National Hockey League are, names such as Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Erik Karlsson and Connor McDavid come to mind, among others.
And of course, there's Auston Matthews.
These players all have something in common - they excel at all aspects of the game, and are offense driving forces. This gives them regular and important spots on their respective team's power plays.
Except for some reason, Matthews gets virtually no time in that part of the game.
Toronto Sun reporter Steve Simmons ripped into Mike Babcock for his usage of Matthews, and it's hard to fault him for criticizing the Leafs' head coach.
Matthews leads the NHL in even strength goal scoring since his first game in the league last year, which is an incredible feat. But when it comes to his power play production, he's 57th in the league.
"That’s on Mike Babcock, the usually sensible, pragmatic, and sometimes stubborn coach of the Maple Leafs. He decides how to employ his talent. A lot of what he does makes sense. He’s a great coach. But some of what he does — like his regular usage of Roman Polak — is easy to question," Simmons says.
"In the case of Matthews, though, his coaching logic borders on baffling. Babcock, who cares about only winning, has somehow rendered his best shooter, his best player, to playing second fiddle behind Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner on the Leafs’ first power-play unit.
"This is illogical."
Baffling and illogical are great words to describe what's going on right now in Toronto.
Matthews has 17 goals at 5 on 5 compared to the 20 total scored by Kadri, Marner, and Bozak. All three of those players get more ice time than Matthews, who is 201st in the league in that category.
If Matthews hadn't missed 10 games to injury, Simmons believes that the star centre would likely have hit 20 or more goals by now at even strength. That's more than those 3 other players combined.
Yet, Babcock doesn't put his best scorer in a position to undoubtedly succeed, opting for less effective players on the power play. It lacks sense, and if you have a justification for Babcock's decision in that regard, by all means, share.
This confusing player usage rivals Babcock's love for Roman Polak, who is impervious to the defense rotation that sees younger, more talented players in Connor Carrick, Travis Dermott, and Andreas Borgman constantly sitting out games in favour of the veteran.
Do you see other top scorers sitting on the second power play unit with limited usage? Phil Kessel, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Patrik Laine... none of these guys will be used so sparingly. You optimize a player's strength to win games. Matthews dominated the 5 on 5 game like few players can, so you know with the added space he's going to be all that more dangerous.
Let's take a look at some of his power play magic and ask ourselves why he isn't getting used more.
And if you're feeling particularly bored, here's all of Matthews' magic from last season.
Source: Toronto Sun
Photo Credit: Keystone Press