Where does Auston Matthews' all-time scoring season rank?

With his 66th goal of the season, Auston Matthews stands alone atop the all-time scoring chart in the salary cap era, surpassing Alex Ovechkin's 65 goals in 2007-08. Only 20 seasons have seen a player score more goals.

However, not every goal-scoring season is earned equally. Some players score high because their scoring environment allows them to do so. Others have done a lot of damage with the man advantage.

Although every epic goal-scoring season is special, some seem even more impressive in context. Where does Matthews' brilliance this season stand against the array of other great goal scoring seasons?

The easy answer to this is to go to Hockey Reference and find Revised leaderboard. For those unfamiliar with the era's adjustments, Hockey Reference aims to put each season in the same context by adjusting for games played, roster size, and goals per game. Some eras had a larger number of games, some eras had smaller rosters, and some eras had a greater number of goals. All three variables can change how great a player's production is.

For example, Wayne Gretzky holds the NHL record for goals in a single season with 92 goals in 80 games during the 1981–82 season. That season there was a league-high 8.02 goals per game, 7.91 without Gretzky. Adjust that to six goals per game, accounting for two fewer games and one fewer roster spot, and 92 goals turns into an adjusted 68 goals.

This is tied for seventh best in the modern era. He's also one fewer than Matthews this season.

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(Dom Luszczyszyn/ The athlete)

For many, this is where the analysis generally stops, leaving Matthews just outside the top five and falling short of Ovechkin in dominating the Cap era.

However, we can dive a little deeper than that.

What era mods don't really take into account is situational scoring. It is much more difficult to score at even strength than on the power play, and some eras have offered greater opportunities on the power play as well.

Here's an example: This season there were 4.7 equal goals per game, which is very close to the 4.74 equal goals per game scored in 1991-92. But power plays are also hitting nearly 21 percent this season, much higher than the 19.2 percent average in 1991-92. However, there were an additional 0.8 goals per game in the 1991-92 season. Difference: Two more power play opportunities per game than currently. This means more power play goals overall and a more efficient score at even strength.

This is accounted for somewhat by the era adjustment, but only to the extent that we say 6.96 goals per game is 13 percent harder than 6.16 goals per game. It doesn't take into account that power play goals are actually a little easier to score now and the entire difference (and more) comes from the difficulty of scoring at even strength in this era.

With that in mind, we can adjust the era slightly, taking into account the difference on the power play each season as well as the difference in power play opportunities.

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But we still have to go a step further and take into account the degree of difficulty.

On average, it's 2.4 times easier to score a goal on the power play, meaning that to find your most impressive scoring season, it can be helpful to put much less weight on those goals. This doesn't mean that power play goals have less value or are any less special – a goal is a goal, 60 goals is 60 goals. But the purpose of this exercise dictates a greater focus on goals that are more difficult to score: goals of equal strength. Essentially, a 60-goal season with 45 goals of equal strength should be viewed slightly higher than a 60-goal season with 30 goals of equal strength.

Putting it all together, Matthews finished with an adjusted 64.3 goals scored, good for the third-best scoring season in the modern hockey era and surpassing Ovechkin's 2007-08 season.

Interestingly enough, Matthews didn't end up becoming the best of the Caps era, but he's really close. That honor goes to Steven Stamkos, who scored 48 of his 60 goals in the 2011-12 season at even strength in a more difficult scoring environment. That gave Stamkos the distinction of an even-strength best scoring season and the only better season than Matthews is now putting together.

As for the best season overall, that still belongs to Brett Hull in 1990-91.


(Dom Luszczyszyn/ The athlete)

Whichever way you slice the data, as long as it's in context, the conclusion is clear: What Matthews is doing this season is a clear top-10 scoring and top-five season. He was legendary, especially when it came to scoring goals at even strength, where only Stamkos was more impressive.

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This has been a special year for Matthews. Whether he reaches 70 goals or not, it still has one of the best scoring seasons ever.

– Data via Hockey Reference.

(Top photo of Auston Matthews celebrating his 66th goal: Rich Graysle/NHLI via Getty Images)

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