The Toronto Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews agreed to a five-year, $58.17-million contract extension on Tuesday. The contract will keep Matthews signed through the 2023-24 season and carries a cap hit of $11.63-million.
Matthews has scored at a prolific rate in his first three seasons in the NHL. He’s registered 97 goals in 182 regular season games. That’s a 44-goal pace over a full 82 games, though injuries have limited him from reaching that mark. The 21-year-old has racked up 23 goals and 23 assists in 38 games this season.
Toronto’s front office will feel good about locking up a core piece, but five years is far from ideal. It buys them just one year of Matthews’ potential unrestricted free-agency, but their current cap situation meant Toronto couldn’t reasonably afford to sign Matthews to a longer contract. It forced the Leafs into taking a risk of overpaying on his next deal in order to buy low now.
The Auston Matthews ask on an eight-year extension was in the range of Connor McDavid's 16.67% of cap hit. So a ~$13.8M AAV based on projected $83M cap.
The #leafs delayed more than $2M AAV per for five seasons, but will have to negotiate again with Matthews at age 26 to do it.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 5, 2019
Just Getting Started
With Matthews and William Nylander locked up, the Leafs are well on their way to keeping their core intact. It’s a great start for the front office, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Matthews’ extension leaves the Leafs with approximately $18-million in cap space next season. They’ll need to somehow fit contracts for impending restricted free-agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Igor Ozhiganov, and Garret Sparks. Unfortunately for the Leafs, with Marner’s contract alone likely accounting for half of the remaining cap space, Toronto will have no choice but to let unrestricted free-agents Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey hit the open market.
Marner reiterated throughout the season that he does not want to negotiate a contract mid-season. At this point, it’s unlikely a deal gets finalized before the summer. His own agent hurled Marner into the spotlight Tuesday night when he told the Toronto Star the Maple Leafs were “lowballing” Marner in negotiations last summer. The Leafs and Marner both downplayed the incident at Wednesday’s morning skate.
Mike Babcock on Mitch Marner: “He’s a lifetime Leaf.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) February 6, 2019
Mitch Marner says he didn't see the comments from his agent, Darren Ferris, in the Toronto Star. Adds that the only thing that matters is that he's in training camp with the #leafs next season.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 6, 2019
As was the case with Matthews, an extension for Marner seems inevitable. The question is how much space it will leave the Leafs to re-sign the remaining restricted free-agents and fill the looming holes on the blueline.