Report: Auston Matthews would consider taking less money to help Leafs win

The Toronto Maple Leafs superstar is sure to be well compensated on his next deal, but he's reportedly taking the team's cap situation into account.

As contract negotiations between Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs continue, it's becoming apparent that the franchise centre is thinking about more than simply maximizing his income.

NHL insider Frank Seravalli's appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Tuesday shed some light on another emerging factor in the discussion between the star and the team he's played for since being drafted first overall in 2016.

"He wants to be able to allow enough money on the Leafs’ cap and in their system to build a team that has a chance to win," Seravalli said. "It’s not about setting a record, it’s not about getting [four years at $15 million per], as much as he could ask for that and the Leafs might have to pay it.

"The idea, at least as I understand it, is that he wants to win and he has to find a spot that pays him appropriately and gives the Leafs some wiggle room to go out and make deals.”

Auston Matthews appears to be considering the Maple Leafs' big-picture team-building efforts during the negotiation on his contract extension.
Auston Matthews appears to be considering the Maple Leafs' big-picture team-building efforts during the negotiation on his contract extension. (Photo via Getty)

None of that means Matthews should be expected to sign a deal way below his market value.

His current AAV of $11.64 million already ranks fourth among NHL players and the 2021-22 Hart Trophy winner is sure to take a raise on that. We're not about to see an incredible act of altruism from Matthews in service of the Maple Leafs' success.

That said, one of the criticisms of previous iterations of this team is that all of its top players pushed for the largest possible contracts with little regard for how it would affect the club's ability to build around them. While it's not reasonable to expect athletes to take less money than the market will bear, in a salary cap system, maxing out your individual value can have an adverse affect on your team's ability to build around you. Choosing to take less can help an elite player achieve team success.

In the NFL, for example, Tom Brady habitually negotiated contracts that underpaid him relative to what he could've pushed for to allow the New England Patriots to better encircle him with elite talent. That helped him win six championship with the franchise.

Until we see Matthews sign a contract, we won't have a good sense of what he was or wasn't willing to sacrifice. It's not fair to expect him to sign for any less than he's worth, but it's understandable that he might see the value in doing so.

If he does, that will be excellent news for the Maple Leafs. Not only could it leave them with more cap space than they expected in the years to come, there's a chance it would have a knock-on effect.

Should Matthews show a willingness to take a small haircut, it might set the tone and increase the chances that other core players like William Nylander and Mitch Marner do the same on future contracts.