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Rick Vaive was having a fine time at the Maple Leafs’ Blue & White gala at the Royal York earlier this month when he bumped into Auston Matthews.
“I said to him, ‘Are you going to break the record?’ ” Vaive said during an interview with the Toronto Sun on Monday. “I told him it was 55 goals (to set a new mark). He said, ‘Oh boy, I have a lot of work to do, then.’
“I told him to just keep playing the way he is playing and he will likely do it.”
While Matthews is steaming toward becoming just the fourth player in Leafs history to score 50 goals in a season — he will need 16 in the Leafs’ final 33 games, once the bye week concludes, to hit the milestone — there’s no question that beating the Leafs’ team record of 54 goals also is attainable for Matthews.
With 34 goals in the Leafs’ first 49 games, Matthews is on pace for 57.
During the 1981-82 season, Vaive became the first Leaf to score 50 goals, finishing with 54; seasons of 51 and 52 goals by Vaive followed in successive years.
Dave Andreychuk finished the 1992-93 season with 54 goals, but 29 of those came with Buffalo before he was traded to Toronto. The following season, Andreychuk scored 53 for the Leafs.
Between Vaive’s run of three 50-goal seasons and Andreychuk’s two-year run, Gary Leeman scored 51 goals in 1989-90.
Vaive fully expects Matthews to push his name off the top of the list at some point, whether it’s this season or in the near future.
“He is a great player — he has great vision, he has an unbelievable shot, great release,” Vaive said. “Nobody wants their records broken, let’s face it. I’m not going to pretend I’m cheering for him to break the record, but if he does, that would be great.
“It’s the old cliche — records are meant to be broken, and it has been 38 years. With the ability he has, I can’t imagine in the next three or four years he would not be able to surpass it, if he doesn’t do it this year.”
Vaive easily recalled those days in March 1982 as he got closer to 50 goals. The Leafs’ record was 48, accomplished by Frank Mahovlich during the 1960-61 season, though Vaive did not realize it.
With seven games remaining, Vaive had 45 goals. Against Chicago on March 22, Vaive scored four to break Mahovlich’s record.
Vaive got his 50th two nights later in a win against St. Louis, then scored one goal in four of the Leafs’ final five games to arrive at 54.
“At around 45, the media started talking about it, and I remember thinking, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a lot of great players who played in Toronto, and no one had ever scored 50?’ ” Vaive said. “I was kind of shocked. After I got 49, Frank came to the rink the next day and congratulated me and I had a picture taken with him. That was pretty cool.”
Vaive became the first Leaf to score 50 when he deposited a pass from Bill Derlago behind Blues goalie Mike Liut during a Toronto power play in the first period at Maple Leaf Gardens on March 24. The Leafs’ victory that night was just their 20th of 1981-82, and they did not win again that season.
“A special night, no question,” Vaive said. “It was like, wow, you made history. I had some family in town and it was great to go out after to celebrate with teammates.”
Vaive said he had only one disappointment from that time. Leafs owner Harold Ballard, often miserly, couldn’t be bothered to congratulate Vaive.
“I was pretty proud of scoring 50,” Vaive said, “but that was Harold.”
Matthews won’t receive similar treatment from Vaive if he gets to 55.
“Hopefully, I would be at the game,” Vaive said, “and I would be the first guy to congratulate him and have a picture taken with him and say, ‘Hey, great job.’ Because I know how hard it is.”
VAIVE RECALLS USING ‘LOG’ TO SET LEAFS RECORDS
Of the changes in the NHL since Rick Vaive scored 54 goals for the Maple Leafs in the 1981-82 season, one sticks out.
It’s, uh, about Vaive’s stick compared to the lighter composite sticks the players use now.
“I played with a log,” Vaive said, recalling his Titan model. “And I kept breaking them, so I told them to make the shaft thicker and stronger. It got to the point where the shaft was almost square. And it had very little curve.”
When Vaive considers the changes in the game, he figures it goes both ways.
“We got hooked and held and grabbed and cross-checked,” Vaive said. “You couldn’t get rebounds in front because you would be on your ass before you had a chance to.
“Today, you can get those rebounds, but the goalies are bigger, they have bigger equipment.
“I believe anybody who could accomplish 50 goals multiple times (as Vaive did) could do it in any decade, all things being equal.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020