Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Elliotte Friedman suggests Leafs and Matthews aiming for 5-6 year deal

When the Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves constantly making headlines for a to-the-wire contract negotiation with forward William Nylander this fall, it seemed inevitable that they would do just about anything to avoid a similar situation with 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews.

The team all but confirmed that on Tuesday, with general manager Kyle Dubas coming out and saying that he’s hoping for an imminent extension for Matthews ahead of the trade deadline.

Since then, the hockey world has been sidetracked by the bizarrely abrupt, late-night firing of Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. As Elliotte Friedman points out in his latest ’31 Thoughts’ column, though, there’s still plenty to discuss regarding the Leafs and their most prized asset moving forward:

“How to interpret Toronto GM Kyle Dubas’s proclamation that the Maple Leafs are having good dialogue with Auston Matthews? My take is this: both team and agent Judd Moldaver see an eight-year deal as extremely unlikely,” he wrote.

Based on his musings, the salary on a long-term deal like that – which would push Matthews through his prime years and most impressive production – would be too high for the team to then afford their other star players.

A four year deal, though, would put the 22-year-old forward right at the cusp of his UFA years when it expired, leaving the team likely poised to lose their star to free agency. That leaves either five or six years, in theory, which presents a host of problems all on its own:

“We’re looking at a five- or six-year contract. That puts the number under Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million, but exactly where is what’s still to be decided. Dubas’s proclamation that they’d like to know before the deadline means February will be an important month in the process.”

Friedman brought up the important point that Mitch Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris, would very much like to see what Matthews gets before he approaches the negotiating table to open discussions for his own client. This means that the higher they go with Matthews, the higher they’ll have to go with Marner, and the less they’ll have for the remainder of their roster – which won’t have any other contracts of their magnitude set to negotiate soon, but will still need a few key supplementary pieces to get locked down.

There’s the speculation that some agents are hoping to let their clients take shorter deals in hopes of grabbing a larger slice of the NHL’s next TV deal pie following the expiry of the NHL’s deal with NBC in two years, but even if a young player takes a shorter deal there’s an expectation that they’re still going to want some serious chunks of change.

This is all wild speculation, of course. At no point does Friedman suggest that his numbers are rumor-based, but rather based on what he’s seen and what he thinks.

Still, they bring up an interesting debate. The next few weeks are going to be a lot of fun to keep an eye on from the front office standpoint.

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