We’re in a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs are figuring out why they didn’t get past the Second Round of this year’s Playoffs, new GM Brad Treliving is deliberating his next moves and the future of the ‘Core 4’ is up for debate.
But the big questions plaguing Leafs fans and pundits right now are:
What’s the future of star forward Auston Matthews?
Does he deserve a bigger salary and is he a loyal leaf?
Skip this bit if you’ve heard or read about it before, but for those who don’t, here’s the brief.
The deadline of July 1st is in place where Auston Matthews can negotiate an extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs team and activate his Non-Movement-Clause before entering the last year of his five-year contract.
However, in this sweet spot, Matthews can deliberate on waiving the NMC and becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent, to seek new opportunities with other teams.
Leafs’ new GM Brad Treliving, wasted no time in telling the media that a big part of his plans for the future of the team would initially involve securing an extension for Matthews.
Matthews has become a key part of the ‘Core 4’ of players of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs’ offensive machine.
While Matthews is the priority, little was said of Nylander’s future. The winger has a very similar contract but his future remains up for debate.
You can read more about William Nylander’s future here: Is Nylander the odd man out?
How long and how much?
There was much speculation put forward by the panel guest Mike Johnson. He was weighing into the 13 or so minute rant about the Leafs forward on the TSN panel show ‘OverDrive’.
When asked about what kind of potential future contract Matthews could seek, Johnson said that it was more likely that he would push for a contract of either three or five years, worth either $13.5M or $14M average annual salary.
That’s certainly higher than the $11.6M per year his current five-year contract was agreed upon.
Then there was talk of an eight-year contract. Johnson said it could be something evaluated after that new one was close to concluding. Johnson posited that if Matthews did, he could look at a $120M contract.
The team’s performance would be a prime factor in Matthew’s decision, he added.
Furthermore, it was questioned if Matthews could become the first player to finish his career, having had a $200M contract with the NHL.
In it for the money?
OverDrive’s host Bryan Hayes wasn’t exactly pleased. While he accepted Matthews was ‘free to do what he wants’, he claimed the player was essentially out to make money.
He argued that these kind of mid-term contracts benefitted Matthews’ bank account and had less to do with the importance of the team winning.
Citing players like Matthew Tkachuk (Florida Panthers), David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Hayes stated that these players had all signed eight-year contracts and were loyal to their teams, even in the face of the salary cap.
Hayes reckoned that Matthews would hold out for more.
Where loyalties lie?
Johnson and Hayes also clashed on whether Matthews was loyal to the Leafs.
The former argued that he didn’t have to be and instead the forward could push for greater flexibility. Matthews would need to weigh up whether the team could perform, the money was good and there was a future there, not simply accept the situation.
Matthews could use his leverage to push for more.
Hayes argued that he should be loyal and thus accept a fair salary just like his peers who are also facing the pressures of the salary cap.
‘It just boggles my mind how it’s just this guy, here.’
Responding to Johnson’s points about loyalty and flexibility, Hayes would rebut with ‘Because that’s the nature of a hard salary cap. Everyone else is doing it.’
Interestingly, this does raise some questions for the projected Salary Cap for 2023/24.
The NHL is expected to raise team’s projected Salary Cap Upper Limit to $83.5M USD, another $1M increment on last season.
Toronto Maple Leafs do have some breathing space going into next season. They will be going into 2023/24 with a projected salary cap of over $74.3M and $9.1M in Cap Space.
While there have been some wild rumours of the Salary Cap going up by up to $4M if the escrow debt was retired this summer, it’s probably more likely it will only go up by $1M.
You can read more about the Salary Cap here: Can Canucks find cap space?
If the boosted salary cap were a reality, these salary aspirations for a Matthews’ extension might be feasible for Maple Leafs, but that’s up to Treliving and co to decide.
What’s Matthews said?
Well, nothing on an extension so far. The panel’s points were pure speculation and there’s still plenty to come before he chooses to re-sign or not before July 1st.
Suggesting that the panel are correct and Matthews wants a shorter contract with flexibility and using his perceived leverage, could that impact a trade too? Does Matthews hold all of the cards on July 1st? If Maple Leafs offer him a longer contract, what happens if he refuses?