This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, but Auston Matthews is going to get paid. He’s only getting into the second year of his entry-level right now, but with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel signing massive contracts this off-season, it’s impossible not to talk about where Matthews’ next contract is going to end up.
Darren Dreger was on Leafs Lunch this afternoon and he said Matthews’ deal will end up similar to the $12.5 million annual figure of McDavid’s recently-signed extension.
This is purely speculation at this point, of course, because Matthews is only 83 games into his NHL career. But come this summer, his camp and the Leafs are going to be negotiating an eight-year extension that’ll kick in in 2019-20. McDavid’s deal is $12.5 million over eight years, while Eichel’s deal is $10 million over the same term. Matthews will likely end up somewhere in the middle, and based on his 40-goal rookie season, there’s a good chance it’ll be closer to McDavid’s cap hit than Eichel’s.
Damn, that seems like a lot of money. It’s easy to get stressed out about the cap when you see numbers like that thrown around. We all see how difficult it is for the Chicago Blackhawks to make things work with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane making $21 million combined. But this is exactly what we went through in Edmonton this summer with McDavid’s extension.
If you have a player good enough to make that kind of coin, it isn’t a bad thing. And yes, Auston Matthews is that good. The $12 million annual hypothetical contract handed out to Matthews isn’t the cap hit that’s going to buckle your team’s cap picture. It’s the expensive deals given to auxiliary players in free agency.
Moving back to Edmonton, paying McDavid and Draisaitl, either a great one-two punch down the middle or two thirds of a dominant line, $21 million combined isn’t a bad thing. The thing that could end up screwing the Oilers over is free agent deals like $6 million to Milan Lucic and $4 million to Kris Russell.
The Leafs aren’t any different. The key to success in the cap world is locking down your key players and not having too much junk around them. And the Leafs don’t. Sure, Matt Martin’s deal is debatable, but there are many other issues if that $2.5 million cap hit hemorrhages you from being successful. In fact, the Leafs have a pretty good and fluid cap situation around their soon-to-be expensive big three core. The league changes quickly, and the rosters of good teams do too. But in the middle of all of it, through thick and thin, are guys like Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews.
As Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner move into their new contracts, the Leafs will also have James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Ron Hainsey, Matt Martin and Jake Gardiner coming off the shelf. Now, of course, some those are good players that need to be replaced aren’t just money off the books, but the team isn’t committed to any horrible long-term contracts that are going to sewer them from signing their big three. Having good players like Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri locked up to reasonable contracts certainly makes life easier too.
Like I said, Auston Matthews is going to get paid. That’s a good thing. It means he’s one of the league’s best players. Navigating the cap is never an easy thing, especially when you have superstar players, but the Leafs are in a good position to make it work long-term. So don’t fret about the salary cap, instead, get jazzed up about the players who are warranting the big contracts. Because when you have an Auston Matthews on your team, it becomes a lot easier to fill the holes with cheap, internally developed players and cheap, low-key acquisitions.