All roads lead to Auston Matthews staying in Toronto
Auston Matthews says he enjoys playing in Toronto and his "intention is to be here" but with one year left on his $11.6 million contract, the Maple Leafs will have to convince its star forward to extend at a price the franchise is willing to pay,
JULIAN MCKENZIE: What about Auston Matthews? Let's start getting to some of the players. I mean, everyone is going to focus on whether or not he comes back. I mean, he says he wants to come back, but like I want $1,000,000, Avry probably wants a lifetime supply of fedoras, Sam probably wants a day of peace on Twitter. Arun, what are you-- what desire do you want?
ARUN SRINVASAN: I mean, look, I'll just say this in defense of like Auston Matthews, like I don't see why you wouldn't believe him. Like he's one of the eight players in the league where you give him a blank check. Like this-- again, like I'm sort of like just like-- maybe because I cover the team I'm too close to it, but it just seems like such a bizarre notion that like the Leafs would let him walk. He's one of those like 20-year like one franchise players and maybe those are becoming, you know, increasingly rare. But like once again, like what's the point of building a team if you can't retain Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner? It just like-- it defies all logic.
So again, like this is-- it's not like he's playing a small market. Like I know there's a salary cap and all, but he plays in a wealthy organization that prints money. Like this shouldn't really-- money really is no obstacle for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. You know, for William Nylander too. Like I thought Nylander, again, like he has one year left on a team friendly deal and he wants to be back, but he also was like, yeah, it's like I have one more year left under contract.
So you know, that, and on top of that, they both have no moving clauses that kick in if they're on the team past July 1st. Matthews is a full no movement. Nylander with a 10-team no movement. So I think that does matter.
But yeah, like do I think the Leafs are going to have any problems signing Auston Matthews? Like barring like them just completely like collapsing out of the gate next year and like finishing like towards the bottom of the Atlantic division, I can't even foresee a path where, you know, the teams can't find an agreement. Like will he-- like will other markets have a laugh at him eventually becoming the highest paid player in the league? Like maybe, but I truly can't see a pathway where a player of his pedigree, his age, you know-- I mean, look, he was a Hart Trophy winner last year. If a down season Auston Matthews constitutes 85 points in 74 games while leading all forwards and blocked shots in the regular season and the playoffs, like what is the issue? Like am I seeing this with just Leafs-colored glasses? Like you guys tell me.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Oh, I understand. And I've been consistent thinking that like I'd be stunned if he left. It's just when you go through the trials and tribulations with the Leafs, as he has, I think it's a fair question to ask.
And yes, I understand he has a one year left on his deal and William Nylander is saying the same thing. But we just saw last year, not to bring up Matthew Tkachuk again, but a guy who had a year left on his deal and a team realizing, OK, they needed to get something for him as opposed to just leaving it late and maybe getting a lesser offer or letting him walk for nothing, as that same team also experienced with another superstar that they lost in the off-season season. It feels like now, maybe because of that, maybe not, but we are going to wonder aloud about guys on with one year left on their deals and if teams are going to do everything they can to sign them.
And it's not saying they can't sign them, but for a guy like Auston Matthews, as you said, who should be a lifer for one franchise, he holds a lot of cards in this situation. And while I imagine he definitely wants to be back, and I'm sure if Kyle Dubas is going to remain the GM he's going to want to do everything in his power to do that, I do wonder, though, in the salary cap world that we live in, does that play a role, does that hurt anything? Maybe-- I'm pretty sure, if I were to put a percentage on it, 85% chance he stays.
But if he doesn't stay or if they leave that unsigned into next season, then it's going to get really interesting. It's going to be-- like that's going to hover-- like Toronto media en masse will just like-- they're going to hound him over that like every possible moment. Every market he goes into, he will be asked that question. Toronto-Arizona games, you could--
SAM CHANG: It's not any different than the last time we did this, right? Like--
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Right.
SAM CHANG: --I really feel like we just did this with Mitch Marner, like--
JULIAN MCKENZIE: We did.
SAM CHANG: --it's not anything different. I think, for me, the Calgary comparison makes sense. But for the fact that in this situation-- he's Johnny Gaudreau in this situation, but he's not Johnny Gaudreau in that he clearly wants to win. And I'm sorry, I'm not saying Johnny Gaudreau doesn't want to win, but like choosing Columbus is a bizarre thing to do, right?
JULIAN MCKENZIE: It is.
SAM CHANG: Like he's not going-- I don't see him doing that.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: No, no. And like--
SAM CHANG: Where is he going to go? Where is he going to go where they can afford him and where he can win? That is not where he is right now.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: You have to-- basically, if you're a team that sees a possibility-- like if Auston Matthews said, I mean, I don't know how he could say this without any kind of tampering going off, but like let's just play NBA rules for a second. Like if Auston Matthews like somewhere kind of made some kind of hit he would love to go to LA, for example, or somewhere through the grapevine like his representation sort of says that, you're LA, you essentially have to look at your roster and be like, you got to go, you got to go, you got to go, because we're clearing salary. That would be kind of fun for us to watch.
I think that'd be cool, but also a pipe dream at this point. Because if it got to that point, like-- I don't know. You're right. It is a bit nonsensical, but it is kind of fun to wonder about a world whether or not Auston Matthews like could somehow pick his own destination. Damn salary cap just ruining everything. Avry, what do you think?
AVRY LEWIS-MCDOUGALL: Yeah, I think Matthew stays. I don't see Matthews leaving Toronto. He's shown many times before he likes being a Maple Leaf, he likes the city, he likes the attention. You see him out and about. Summer time, you know, he's always around the city.
So I'd be shocked if Matthew leaves, even for a bigger market. Even for like a New York or LA, I'd be shocked if he were to go. He enjoys being a city boy out in Toronto so much, so.
SAM CHANG: Yeah, I think Avry's right. Like he doesn't strike me-- in LA, yes, it's a bigger market, but like, sorry, no one actually cares about the Kings, right?
JULIAN MCKENZIE: Not like the Dodgers.
SAM CHANG: Kings fans cares care about the Kings, but don't care what you do off ice, right? Like they all live in Hermosa Beach. It's a different thing. Like he strikes me as the type that he wants to be the big fish in the big pond. He doesn't want to be a little fish in a big pond.
JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's a good point. And I mean, if he goes to LA-- we're just using LA as an example-- but like the Dodgers, Lakers, the Angels, who still have Shohei Ohtani, like he would just be like a smaller figure in a really big pond with so much ego and superstardom. Mike Trout. Even mentioned Mike Trout. You get what I'm saying.
ARUN SRINVASAN: Look, the most popular athletes in Toronto are either Auston Matthews, Vlad Guerrero Jr, maybe Pascal Siakam, just because the NBA is just broadly more popular than other sports. But like he is arguably the most popular athlete in a city that has three major North American professional franchises like in the city's-- in the country's largest city. Like he is exactly that. Like he likes being a celebrity, but there's a difference to being a celebrity in Toronto and a difference to being a celebrity in New York or LA, where he would be a C-list celebrity in those cities and he's an A-list celebrity here.
SAM CHANG: C is generous.
ARUN SRINVASAN: Right, C is generous. C is generous, but you know, I think the Leafs supported-- are in need for some generosity after the month they've had, so.