Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SPORTS
At just before 1:10 PM, I got a call from a familiar 778 number looking to have a chat with me. It was Allan Mitchell from TSN 1260 Edmonton (and our very own OilersNation). Normally, an on-air conversation with Allan in the middle of July would be to hype up our annual Five Hole For Food stop outside Stanley Milner Library, but with no tour this year, the topic was much different; Auston Matthews.
We spoke for about 17 minutes about how what we thought to be Lou Lamoriello’s hesitance to give out rookie bonuses was pretty crazy, something I originally stressed here a few weeks ago and reiterated this morning. We talked about other things too, but at the end, he asked me when we’d finally be able to post our “Matthews signs ELC” article. I laughed, said we haven’t written one yet, but that the Leafs would probably relent and sign him at the maximum salary at some point in the middle of August.
I hung up the phone, told the family my call was over and was no longer off limits, grabbed another glass of lemonade, sat back at the desk, and my phone buzzed.
The Leafs announced today that they’ve signed forward Auston Matthews to a three-year entry-level contract. #TMLtalk
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 21, 2016
Way to go, Jeff. Knocked it right out of the park. Not even off the phone for five minutes and the contract is official.
The reality, at least as far as what the media has been told, turned out to be so far from what had been speculated that we all look a little bit silly. “The agreement took place within, I would say, ten minutes of the first conversation that Pat Brisson and I had when we talked about Auston’s contract,” said Lou Lamoriello in a media phone call this afternoon. “Pat and I have been doing contracts for a number of years together, we’ve had a lot of different players that we’ve worked with. But this was never an issue at any point.”
All of that hype about reluctance and old-school rules, all for it to turn out that this was a ‘whenever we get around to it’ type of situation. As Lamoriello stressed a few moments later, the team had prioritized the operation of development camp, the signing of their restricted free agents, and preparation for their salary arbitration cases with Frank Corrado, Peter Holland, and Martin Marincin (which Lamoriello would not comment on). The situation ‘dragged on’, so to speak, not because the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, but because they felt it was so abundantly obvious what was at stake.
Matthews shared the sentiment. “I was never worried about it,” said the rookie forward. “There was no timetable on getting the deal done. I was very excited to get to training camp and get a little taste of what it’s like to be a part of the organization. It was an unbelievable time.”
There were two things that Lamoriello said that were particularly interesting to me, and they were both in response to the same core question.
“I think that, when Mike, Brendan, and I got together, we said that we would not be operating the New Jersey way, we wouldn’t be operating the Detroit way, we’d be operating the Toronto way.
There are always reasons for what you do. It’s not to throw anybody off, it’s not to make anybody feel uncomfortable, it’s just the way we will operate. And sometimes there will be questions why, but there’s no deceit involved, there’s no trying to pull a fast one.”
It’s a really interesting line, that I think encapsulates both the process we believed to be unfolding, and the state of mind being given to the offseason on the whole.
Any form of “outsider”; be it a fan, be it a reporter, be it an employee in a much different part of the office, plays at a disadvantage when it comes to speculation. If you’re what we label an “insider”, you can get snippets of information that may or may not put you at a theoretical edge in your thought process, but the name of the speculatory game involves making the most out of the information you think that you know.
But sometimes, you get a situation like this, where a city that hasn’t had to deal with a first overall pick in 30 something years knows that the general manager has a prior record of being stingy with bonuses, and they see the golden boy wear the jersey without a contract attached to him. It’s the biggest market, so people on the outside take notice and start talking. It snowballs. Eventually, you get a situation like Kevin McGran’s piece yesterday, where even people from other parts of the league begin to buy into the tropes they know and have opinions to give.
It’s nobody’s fault, really. Everybody is looking for answers while the questions themselves are still forming. There’s an illusion of understanding that gets you to a conclusion, and each day that passes by leads to another round of chatter. The Leafs weren’t being deceptive by taking their time to get around to the signing, but it led to a snowballing of chatter. Could they have stopped it by signing him sooner? Sure. Could they slow the slight skepticism some carry towards the draft and their offseason moves by explaining their process? If it makes sense, probably.
But what do they have to gain from any of that? The Leafs clearly didn’t care about the speculation, the Matthews camp clearly didn’t and everyone’s moved on with their lives. Which brings us to the ‘Toronto way’ part of that statement.
Lamoriello went on to describe the Toronto way a bit, saying that it was up to every member of the organization to “perform to the best of our abilities collectively to have that Leaf have the result that we all want. To be a Leaf is to give up your own identity at times to have success.”
To some, that’s an implication that he gave up his own identity to sign this deal. That might have elements of truth, though he made sure to repeatedly stress that he felt that Auston was well worth the money. But to me, the bigger picture thought in that line is that the group has spent the last few weeks taking a couple slight ego-kickings, while seemingly not doing anything directly to appease others. While their personal identities have dropped a little bit from ‘too collectively smart to fail’, they’ve wasted no time trying to convince while chasing their own blueprint for success.
Is the full blueprint a correct one? We’ll have to see. But for now, Auston Matthews’ contract is sorted and turned out to be not even a fraction of the issue that that those on the outside looking in, thought it would be, and that’s the important thing for this organization.