Toronto Maple Leafs fans have a few reasons to be nervous over the future of Auston Matthews, and that’s just one of the things they have to worry about.
The team hasn’t won a playoff series in well-nigh 20 years and is still in the NHL’s most difficult division. There’s also the small matter of having a GM without a new contract, while they’ve gone with two options in goal who beg some questions.
Matthews’ contract situation seems to be the biggest concern among Leafs supporters but it’s probably the one least deserving as the player still has two years remaining on his deal. The league’s collective bargaining agreement is currently preventing him from signing an extension. He can’t do so until July 1, 2023.
There’s a no-movement clause in the deal that will activate on the aforementioned date which would leave him free to wait until the end of his deal and head straight into free agency without Toronto having the option to trade him. This is, of course, reason to panic, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives in Matthews’ case.
The fact that Matthews actually wants to remain in Toronto should be comforting. When training camp kicked off a few weeks ago, the 25-year-old reiterated his desire to remain part of the organization. “I really love playing in the city of Toronto,” he said. “I consider it home now.”
Sure, plenty of sports personalities have made statements along the same tune before moving elsewhere. This is particularly frequent in the NHL, yet Matthews seemed pretty sincere and it’s understood that his motivations lie in comfort and an opportunity to win. Going back home to Arizona, which has been rumored, does not appear to be a priority for the 2016 No.1 draft pick.
The Leafs haven’t quite done him justice on the winning front but they have put a roster together that has been a contender for the last three years. The player also has some very close friends on the team who are locked down to lengthy contracts. There is also lots of hope within the team that they will become a winning franchise in time to come.
Persons outside of the organization and its support likely feel very differently given the manner in which the Leafs have underachieved for the last several years, which should reflect in the activity where Ontario sports betting is concerned. However, the men in the locker room are understood to believe that they will make the breakthrough soon enough.
“It’s still disappointing with the same result,” the player told reporters last month. “But I think there’s a lot of things that you can take – a lot of positives – from it and move forward.
“You can’t live in the past.”
He also pointed to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche, who found success after several years of mediocrity.
“It took them a really long time to win,” he added. “They had to go through a lot.
“We’re all working towards the same goal.”
The NHL’s salary cap is also set to be raised significantly and will leave the Leafs with plenty of room to extend the center’s deal.
NHL revenues have gone back up following the hit it suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cap could go up to as much as $100 million by the time Toronto will be able to sign Matthews.
According to Elliotte Friedman, the NHL’s upper limit could reach $88 million in 2024 and $92 million in 2025, which would mark the first two seasons of any new deal. Toronto will be able to offer the player a huge raise on his existing $11.64 million cap hit and not have to worry about how they’re going to take care of the rest of the players in the squad.
The Maple Leafs actually have one of the best financial paths in the league, when it comes to the cap. They only have $31 million committed while a number of youngsters are on entry-level contracts and cheap second deals.
They have some enviable flexibility moving forward and, should they re-sign Matthews, will be able to compete with the teams considered to be contenders.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the height of what they’d have to do to romp with the best teams in the NHL. There are several key decisions to be made, especially when the likes of John Tavares and T.J Brodie hit that age decline point. Young players such as Timothy Liljegren, Nick Robertson, and Rasmus Sandin will also need to be developed properly.