No sooner had the ink dried on Connor McDavid’s eight-year, $100-million contract extension than the hockey world’s attention turned to what it all means for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their own resident superstar, Auston Matthews. We’re all kind of funny that way.
Well, the first order of business might be for the Maple Leafs to send McDavid and his agent, Jeff Jackson, a nice fruit basket as a show of appreciation. By basically being a hockey player and accepting less than a 6th man in the NBA gets per season, and not demanding the maximum amount he could have, McDavid basically set the bar just a little lower, and for that the Maple Leafs can be grateful.
But all the hand wringing really isn’t necessary here. A lot of people are overthinking this one. Because the Leafs can essentially right here, right now, put Auston Matthews down for an eight-year, $100 million contract that kicks in for the 2019-20 season and runs through 2026-27. All the heavy lifting has already been done for him by the Oilers and McDavid’s negotiators.
Of course, much of this depends on what Matthews does next season. I’m going to go on the assumption that he puts up another 40 goals, becomes a point-per-game player and continues his trajectory as one of the league’s elite talents. There’s a good chance his team will be better and may even do some significant damage in the Eastern Conference with Matthews leading the way, perhaps even wearing the ‘C’ while doing so.
At this point, that’s pretty well all we have to go on and that would put him, not quite, but just about in McDavid’s stratosphere, both in terms of his ability and the impact he has on his team’s fortunes. The Leafs and everyone else knew there was a good chance this would happen when he went first overall and the consensus was they were getting a generational talent.
So, you pay him accordingly as the first order of business and worry about everyone and everything else as the second. If Matthews looks at the players around him and decides he’s willing to take a little less to help give other players more, well, then that’s a nice little bonus. But you don’t mess around with players of Matthews’ ilk. Teams are locking up their stars for the maximum period of time and, in the process of doing that, are buying three seasons in which they could be unrestricted free agents. They’re paying for players who are getting better, not worse, players who will actually be worth the investment and will be paid for what they are going to contribute, not what they’ve already done.
Does the league necessarily care that one player who will barely be 21 years old at the time will be in line to receive an average annual salary of $12.5 million? Not really, because, here’s the thing. That money was going to go to the players anyway. The league receives half of the hockey related revenues and the players receive the other half. How the players allocate their half of the riches is a matter that is worked out among them in conjunction with their teams. There was once a time, when the NHL Players’ Association was run by Bob Goodenow and there was no salary cap, that the NHLPA was obsessed with driving up the salaries of the star players as high as it possibly could, employing the theory that a high tide raises all ships. Well, now that the tide is entirely dependent upon the revenues the game generates, whether Matthews gets $10 million a year or $12 million a year is not going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
For the Maple Leafs, money is obviously not the issue, either. First, if there weren’t a salary cap, you can bet the Leafs would be spending well in excess of $100 million on salaries. Second, with their level of talent coming up, they’re going to be a cap team anyway, which means they’ll be spending to the upper limit. Again, it’s about allocation, and that’s where their concern lies.
Yes, there is a very real concern about how much money is going to be left over for other players in Edmonton. But there’s a couple of things on that. First, the onus is not on McDavid, nor will it be on Matthews, to sort that out. Second, if the Oilers run into cap trouble, it will not be because McDavid is taking up cap space, rather because the likes of Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are taking up $6 million each and Andrej Sekera is taking up $5.5 million.
As long as the Leafs can stay away from those kinds of contracts, and the Patrick Marleau deal puts up a bit of a red flag on that front, they should be fine. But in any event, the market has been established and this should be an easy one to do. You don’t want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish when you’re dealing with a player who could very well be the best one ever to wear your uniform.
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