As the hockey world knows, the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed centre Auston Matthews to a five-year contract worth $58.17 million.
The extension came down Tuesday and the contract begins in 2019-2020, with Matthews earning an annual salary cap hit of $11.634 million through the 2023-2024 NHL season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent by the age of 26.
Toronto could’ve signed Matthews to an eight-year contract extension, but general manager Kyle Dubas simplified his approach and locked in his star player to a smaller deal. That frees up space and term for signing Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson. Marner, in particular, has exploded statistically as of late and could be due a similar cap hit to Matthews.
“It’s pretty special, you kind of think back a little bit to when you were a kid but for me, I’m extremely proud and I’m happy,” Matthews said. “I know my family who is here now is extremely proud of me as well so it’s a special day. I love playing here; I love this city, my teammates, management, the whole staff, top to bottom so for me it’s extremely special.”
Dubas and Matthews’ agents Judd Muldaver and Jeff Jackson kicked out the jams over the last two weeks and were able to get this deal done before the season intensified, so that’s a good thing because it alleviates distractions off-ice as the Maple Leafs get set for post-season hockey.
Dubas said he began the extension process in the summer, right when Matthews was qualified, and his comfort with the issue made it possible to lock in defenceman Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings. For Toronto’s management, it’s all about positioning and timing. And that includes the trade deadline.
“We obviously appreciate the work that Auston and his people put into this,” Dubas said. “It’s been a long process and I certainly understand when players don’t want to deal with this during the season…It’s a big help to us just in terms of having some certainty as we navigate through here leading into the trade deadline.”
Marner’s agent Darren Ferris has stated a desire not to negotiate a contract during the season, but you have to know that the Matthews contract will set the stage. A lot of players are set to earn larger cap hits, with a loaded class of 2019 RFAs due major raises next season. Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, and Brayden Point should benefit from the tenor of the Matthews deal.
For now, it’s back to hockey for Matthews and the Leafs. The club is 32-17-3, good for second in the Atlantic Division and three points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto will take on the Ottawa Senators tomorrow.
(Photo credit: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)