August, not really the month for crazy hockey stories to emerge, and thus we’re talking about Toronto Maple Leafs centerman Auston Matthews’ ice time. Regardless of whether you like Mike Babcock or not, he’s right about Matthews’ ice time.
The soundbite and quote came from Babcock came just the other day and Leafs Nation is up in arms about it:
Spoke to Leafs coach Mike Babcock today and broached the subject of Auston Matthews' ice time. Here is Babcock's assessment of it.:
(Watch for a full interview with Matthews and Babcock in the next issue of The Hockey News) pic.twitter.com/NZBbcRzbk1
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) August 6, 2019
19 minutes is all Matthews is slated to get under Babcock this season. Seems a bit underwhelming, doesn’t it? Last season, Tavares averaged 19:05 TOI while Matthews averaged 18:33. Collectively, the Leafs top two centers played 37:38 minutes a game, just over 20 minutes left to share between the third and fourth units.
This dampened any effect Nazem Kadri could have last season and is staring new signee Alexander Kerfoot in the face too. Kerfoot will likely be saved by is winger versatility, but the point remains – there aren’t many minutes for the Leafs bottom-6 forwards.
Babcock states in his quote that Matthews and Tavares are being treated the same and will likely see the same 19 minutes a night. The Leafs can afford to do this because they have two first-line centers. The 25 forwards above Tavares in ice time and 37 ahead of Matthews can’t all say they have the center one-two punch the Leafs do.
Also, Tavares finished 8th in center scoring with Stamkos topping him with fewer minutes played. There is some logic to more ice time = more points, but it isn’t an exact science with talents like Matthews and Tavares.
The situation will dictate the usage of both Tavares and Matthews, especially come playoff time. Matchups are huge for Babcock, as we’re all well aware, and either player could be deployed to counter another team’s forwards or capitalize on their defense. It’s a luxury for the Leafs and the smaller minute share should be celebrated in the era of load management we’re currently in.
Can you brag about the center depth of Toronto if you complain about fewer minutes being shared around?