Sportsnet: Auston Matthews' legacy on the line

It's a fair question.



After registering his 5th career 40-goal season, Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews surpassed team legend Darryl Sittler's previous mark of four. Meanwhile, he also surpassed Lanny McDonald and Rick Vaive's team records of three and two straight 40-goal campaigns, respectively. 

However, after Toronto's season came to a close last week in the form of a Round 2 postseason loss to the Florida Panthers, the reality is beginning to set in that Matthews has only one year remaining on his current contract. Not to be unexpected, Matthews reiterated his desire to stay with the Maple Leafs, which is the typical M.O. for any pending unrestricted free agent (unless you're Artemi Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky with the Columbus Blue Jackets) to say that your desire is to stay put. 

But what are his priorities? Are they making money, or staying with the franchise that drafted him and gave him the chance to become a superstar? 

Take a look at a few comments from Justin Bourne of Sportsnet: 

"So now it’s Auston Matthews’ moment here. His actions and ultimate decision in the next few weeks ahead will be part of what defines his legacy, both in Toronto and for the first half of his career. It will reveal his priorities, which have always been a little hard to read with him."

"Every player will have their own priority list of factors to consider when it comes to signing a new contract, particularly with a UFA superstar in their prime. But it’s safe to say that three of the biggest factors are often: maxing out money, potential to win with a team, and the city itself."

"So, for Matthews, what are his priorities?"

We know that should he not agree to a new contract before July 1 of 2024, he'll be one of the highest profile free agents ever to hit the open market. 

Bourne's comments continued: 

"Unfortunately, in a hard salary cap system, it’s not always possible to prioritize Nos. 1 and 2 on that list. The salary cap for the 2022-23 season is going to be something like $83.5 million (maybe higher with some NHLPA/NHL negotiating, but let’s use that as a baseline here). A single player can be paid no more than 20 per cent of that total, which means Matthews can be paid no more than $16.7 million season on his new deal."

"I’m not suggesting Matthews should get that amount; that’s just his pay ceiling. But make no mistake, if he were hitting free agency this summer, there would be teams willing to offer him close to that number (overpaying Matthews and getting an elite 1C at the cost of not losing an asset is a lot easier to accept and more certain than trying to bottom out in the right year and hoping to win the draft lottery)."

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