Everybody wins with Auston Matthews’ contract extension – but especially Matthews


It wasn’t a matter of staying.

Auston Matthews was concise in the days following the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2022 playoff elimination when he indicated his strong desire to remain with the team. Under the suffocating pressure of hockey’s maddest market, Matthews has always seemed relatively comfortable in his own skin, embracing the idea of being an icon. He wasn’t about to run off to his hometown franchise in Arizona. Not on this deal, at least.

It wasn’t a matter of money, either.

Matthews owns a Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Calder Trophy, two Rocket Richard Trophies and a first-team all-star nod, with 299 career goals, by 25. Given Connor McDavid put pen to paper on his eight-year contract in 2017 and Nathan MacKinnon signed his deal a year ago when the future of the league salary cap was cloudier, it was a foregone conclusion that Matthews would become the NHL’s highest-paid player the moment he signed his extension. Bingo: the AAV on his four-year, $53 million deal, announced Wednesday night, is $13.25 million, leapfrogging MacKinnon’s record-setting $12.6 million.

There was a certain degree of suspense around Matthews’ pact as Leafs Nation anticipated it this summer, however. It came down to (a) how long he was willing to sign for; (b) just how rich he needed to become relative to his actual market value; and (c) how his next cap hit would alter the team’s future salary landscape and ability to re-sign Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

Factoring in all the parameters of the extension, which pays Matthews through 2027-28, just before his 31st birthday, it looks as though both sides of the table walked away winners.

That doesn’t mean Matthews and the Leafs are equal winners, of course. Matthews and agent Judd Moldaver – who, a couple years from now, will negotiate the extension for his new client McDavid – have to feel giddy about their new pact. As pointed out by my colleague Frank Seravalli, Matthews will have earned $114 million in career money when he commences his next contract. Based on his current scoring trajectory, even if he’s 75 percent the goal scorer he is now by the time he reaches the end of his new contract, he’ll be set for the third massive payday of his career as an unrestricted free agent. The NHL’s salary cap will sit comfortably north of $90 million five years from now. He might not be a 60-goal scorer in his 30s, but he could easily still be a 40- or even a 50-goal threat by the time he re-ups. To put it in perspective: by the time Matthews’ new contract expires, he’ll only be the age Nikita Kucherov is now, coming off a 113-point season.

So the fact Matthews has zagged and signed a second consecutive medium-term deal still makes him very much a winner given he projects to still be an elite player five years from now. It justifies the fact he’s taking a tiny haircut on his extension. Yes, that’s right, the new richest player in hockey actually accepted a deal below his market value (Calm down; So did McDavid, so did MacKinnon, so did David Pastrnak. I’m not lionizing Matthews here). Matthews’ goal-scoring ability is generational. Among players in league history with 400 or more games played, only Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux and Pavel Bure average more goals per game. Matthews’ average will drop as he gets older, of course, but the point is, he’s the best goal scorer of his era. Since he broke into the NHL in 2016-17, he leads the league in goals across seven seasons – and on a minute-by-minute basis, he laps the field even more. Per-60 scoring data dates back to 2009-10, spanning 14 seasons. In that span, among players with at least 100 games played, Matthews’ mark of 1.62 is by far the best. Second place among every player in the league is 1.27.

So $13.25 million represents a relative discount based on how frequently No. 34 rips pucks past opposing goaltenders. That’s where the Maple Leafs and GM Brad Treliving come out winners, too. Per CapFriendly, Matthews will earn 15.87 percent of Toronto’s cap spending on his next deal based on the current cap of $83.5 million, and that number will eat up 15.4 percent if the cap rises to the currently projected $87.5 million in 2024-25, the first year of his deal. When he signed his current deal in 2019, he earned 14.64 percent of the cap spending. McDavid’s AAV constituted 16.67 percent of Edmonton’s spending when he signed his.

The Leafs, then, have arguably the greatest talent in their franchise history for at least five more seasons, the last year of his current deal included, and they’re barely giving him a raise at all relative to the cap. That’s despite the fact he won all the most prestigious individual awards and became the league’s first 60-goal scorer in a decade over the course of his second contract. Sure, the Leafs wanted Matthews to sign for longer, but from a business perspective, it just didn’t make sense for his camp to do so. With that reality established: the Leafs made out fine. And with Matthews’ piece of the cap pie barely changing, in theory, they can justifiably ask for the same mini sacrifice from Marner when his time comes a year from now. Marner signed at 13.38 percent of Toronto’s cap number in 2019. Under an $87.5 million cap a year from now, 13.38 percent would mean an $11.7 million AAV. Round it up to $12 million.

Nylander’s situation is arguably different given how much he’s increased his value and outperformed his AAV over the course of his deal, so he’s obviously in need of a legitimate raise on his extension. But with Matthews signing at a reasonable number, an extension feels more feasible for No. 88 now. After Treliving wisely opted for one-year deals with his biggest UFA splashes this summer, the Leafs have only $54.1 million committed in 2024-25 cap spending, including Matthews’ new deal. There could conceivably be enough room for Nylander at this point, and/or some additional upgrades or extensions for potential future core members Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll when their times come after their entry-level deals.

The Leafs finally tasted a playoff series win for the first time in the Matthews/Marner era last season. Now, they’ve matured into a pure win-now phase. The Matthews extension gives them the flexibility to chase championships as long as he’s around. Would it have been nice to land him for eight years? Sure. But another half decade of Matthews nevertheless feels like a win. Meanwhile, it’s a brilliant bit of business for Matthews.

Score a ‘W’ for both parties.



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