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Screen Shots: Rick Jeanneret, Auston Matthews, San Jose Sharks

Adam Proteau looks at Auston Matthews' 50-goal season, the San Jose Sharks' struggles and the special night in honor of Rick Jeanneret.
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It’s time for another Screen Shots piece, where we select two or three hockey stories and break them down into mini-columns. Right to it, we go:

– Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews scored his 50th goal of the season in Toronto’s home win over Winnipeg Thursday night. The empty-net goal wasn’t the prettiest of his six-year NHL career, but they all count just the same, and he wouldn’t be in that position if he didn’t score incredible goals on the regular. He hit the 50 mark this year in only 62 games, making him the first player in 26 years to do so.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: it has been a delight to watch Matthews play from the first time he stepped on NHL ice until today, and it’s even more fun to have seen his game grow, at both ends of the ice, to levels not seen in Toronto since the Original Six Era. The 24-year-old has also just set a new personal record in assists, with 37. And Matthews has 87 points, demolishing his previous best of 80, in 70 games in 2019-20.

This is Matthews approaching peak performance, and nobody has an answer for him. He does not shy away from physicality, he backchecks with the best of them, and his pinpoint accuracy with the puck is on another level.

The Leafs have 15 games left for Matthews to break Rick Vaive’s team record of 54 goals. Unless something catastrophic happens to him, Matthews should easily break that record. And again, he’s only 24. A 60-goal season will not be out of the question in the next six or seven years. He is arguably the best player in the game at the moment, and long-suffering Leafs fans know how rare a bird Matthews really is.

– It’s great to see the Buffalo Sabres’ tribute night to longtime play-by-play-man Rick Jeanneret, is sold out. That’s something that hasn't happened much for the sad-sack Sabres this season, but clearly, the team’s fan base has an emotional connection to Jeanneret, and that’s understandable. He has been the voice of the team, in good times and bad, and his retirement will leave a hole in the Buffalo sports experience. We wish him nothing but the best in his post-hockey days.

– Finally, let’s talk a little bit about the San Jose Sharks. Right now, they’re in sixth place in the wild card race, with a 29-30-8 record, 13 points and three teams behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild card berth. They’re also just 10 points ahead of the eight-place Chicago Blackhawks. mediocre this year. They’re in the mushy middle we often warn teams about, too good to land an elite prospect in the NHL entry draft, and not good enough to make the playoffs.

The Sharks made headlines prior to the March 21 trade deadline when they locked up star forward Tomas Hertl to an eight-year, $65.1 million contract extension that will make him the team’s highest-paid forward. But look at San Jose’s roster, and you can’t help but wonder if they’ll be back in the mushy middle next year, too.

Top center Logan Couture will be 34 years old next season. Goalie James Reimer will be 35. Center Nick Bonino will be 34 as well. Defenseman Brent Burns will be 38. Blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be 36. D-man Erik Karlsson will be 32. Most of the veterans San Jose needs to succeed are entering the regressive phase of their career. This is not a recipe to make gains in the Pacific Division.

As per CapFriendly, San Jose has 16 players signed for next season, and only $12.3 million in salary-cap space. That means they’re not going to be big players in free agency. The Sharks lineup you see now is going to be very similar to the one you see in 2022-23. And that lineup is likely to miss the playoffs again.

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