The Matthews contract and pausing Maple Leafs depth adds: Leaflets

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
We’re almost halfway through August. Amazingly the Leafs actually made a move this week which helped with organizational goaltending depth but was also a clear message from Brad Treliving that he’s not on vacation. You could compare what the Leafs current GM did this week to what their former GM did this week but I’d prefer to look forward and not get hung up on the actions of the Penguins. For those of us who thought highly of Kyle Dubas that admiration needs to come with the fact that results didn’t meet expectations while he was here, and change was inevitable. Now onto some other stray thoughts.

Matthews contract

The Leafs still have 11 months to get a Matthews deal done and Auston will be in a Leafs uniform to start the season, so why panic or get worked up about it? Negotiations take time, right?  This seems like moving the bar a lot on what the initial assignment was when it came to Auston Matthews and the goal still needs to be a contract before training camp.
Whether it was Treliving or Dubas calling the shots for the Leafs the prevailing belief was that on July 1st at some point there would be announcement that the Leafs had Auston Matthews locked up for at least a few more years of his prime. Maybe with the GM change that was a lofty goal, but we are now sitting in the middle of August and hearing nothing in this regard. We’re hearing a lot about William Nylander which is in line with Lewis Gross preferring to negotiate through the media. In contrast the last Matthews signing was completely out of the blue and devoid of contract numbers being thrown around publicly. No news might be good news.
The worry with Matthews is that while no news might be encouraging it doesn’t do much to reduce the worries that things might not be peachy. The number of high profile American markets (New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles) as well as Southwestern close to home markets (Vegas and Arizona) that could potentially make things work from a contract perspective for Matthews is what at the very least could make for a distraction throughout the season. I personally know I don’t want to spend the time leading up to the trade deadline writing about how you can’t lose Auston Matthews for nothing, but know it will be a regular part of the content plan if he isn’t signed.
With Matthews I feel like it is best for the Leafs to establish the number that they think Matthews is worth and then add $1M to it to preserve the sanity of Toronto sports fans. If that doesn’t get it done, I guess that’s where I admit contracts are never as easy as they seem.

Standard Player Contracts

Sticking with the theme of contracts the Leafs presently sit at 47 standard players contracts out of the 50 maximum following the signing of Martin Jones. Both Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten will see their contracts slide if they don’t make the Leafs out of camp (spoiler: they don’t make the Leafs out of camp.)
Given the Leafs have 3 spots available and zero cap space available I feel I’m going to be lobbying for the least controversial idea ever and that’s not using those spots.
Last year the Leafs got themselves into a bit of a pickle when goaltending injuries started piling up and Toronto was sitting at 49 contracts, with the intention of spending one of them on Matthew Knies or maintaining a little bit of flexibility. That quickly eroded and the Leafs scrambled to sign Keith Petruzzelli and found themselves mutually terminating their contract with Axel Rindell in order to move back towards having the necessary space to make moves.
Every Leafs deal throughout the year came with the requirement that the Leafs were sending out as many players as they were taking back or possibly sending more the other way. I’m not saying that we need to mourn the departure of Pavel Gogolev but there is a definite benefit to having some roster flexibility rather than overloading the Marlies with players on NHL contracts.
It seemed as if the Leafs planned on losing some players to waivers last year to free up some spots coming out of training camp and that never materialized. It could this year with Conor Timmins, Dylan Gambrell, Martin Jones, and William Lagesson all being notable players that may require clearing waivers. History has shown that the majority of players will clear though and three spaces for roster flexibility seems to be a sweet spot given that the Marlies look to have a strong AHL roster without bringing in anyone else.

Camp Invites

I feel like the next logical progression in this article is to talk about training camp invites. PTOs are a fun way for teams to do something in the middle of August and make for some interesting trivia years down the road, but for the most this is a pretty avoidable exercise.
Last year the Leafs “invited” Zach Aston-Reese to camp. I say they invited him, but both the Leafs and Aston-Reese knew full well that a contract was going to be done as soon as the Leafs could make it work from a salary cap standpoint and didn’t want the complication of waivers or LTIR assignments.
Other camp invites like Brandon Prust were more about having an extra veteran body in training camp allowing core Leafs players to sit during preseason games while a veteran showcases their abilities to interested European teams. That would continue to be the most likely outcome if there is an invite.
I think about some preseason legends like Brendan Perlini who had a big preseason with the Oilers a couple years back and predictably didn’t see that success translate to the regular season. The preseason isn’t about assessing abilities as much as it is about trying to get everyone back up to full speed for more meaningful hockey.
The Leafs might have players like Dylan Gambrell, Bobby McMann, or Pontus Holmberg that they aren’t particularly sure who will grab the final depth spots, but do the likes of Derrick Brassard or Devin Shore add much to the conversation? I’d say no.
If the Leafs are looking at camp invites the player that sticks out is someone like Nathan Beaulieu. This isn’t me saying that Beaulieu is someone the Leafs should consider signing but rather he’s an experienced defenceman who can play on either side that would be effective for forwards running drills against in practice.
I wouldn’t doubt the Leafs invite a player or two, even though I don’t believe they have any interest in signing anyone. I would just expect those invites to be more like the Dylan Ferguson invite last season than the Zach Aston-Reese one.

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