The Buffalo Sabres QEW rival took care of their biggest off-season question weeks before training camp, as the Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Wednesday that they have signed center Auston Matthews to a four-year, $53 million contract extension ($13.25 million AAV) beginning in the 2024-25 season. Matthews, 25, who won the Hart Trophy after setting a franchise record with 60 goals in 2022, was set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Auston Matthews becomes the highest-paid player in the NHL, four years @ 13.25m AAV #Leafs
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) August 23, 2023
“I feel fortunate to continue this journey as a Maple Leaf in front of the best fans in hockey! I will do everything I can to help get us to the top of the mountain.” Matthews said in a social media posting after the announcement.
Top-Heavy Cap Situation
The new deal eclipses Nathan MacKinnon’s $12.6 million salary to make Matthews the NHL’s highest-paid player. The Leafs have been critiqued over the last few years for their top-heavy salary structure, with Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares taking up nearly half of the club’s salary cap, and that will become only a bigger issue with Matthews extension kicking in next summer, but the new deal may lead to changes with new GM Brad Treliving negotiating with Nylander, whose contract is up after the 2023-24 season.
The Leafs situation is unlike the Sabres, who were proactive and able to get their core players (Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens) signed to more manageable cap hits on long-term deals, but Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams has hurdles still to clear, with extensions for defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power still on the horizon.
Nylander through agent Lewis Gross has reportedly demanded upwards of $10 million per season, an amount that the Leafs are likely unwilling and unable to pay. Gross is the same agent who represented Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, and who negotiated up until he departed as an unrestricted free agent to Columbus.
“The contract stuff, that’s just for Brad [Treliving] and my agent to dig into. I mean, both sides, I think, know where each other are at. And right now, we’ll just see what happens,” Nylander said to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek in an interview on Wednesday.”I still have one more year left, so I don’t really understand what the big rush is either to get a deal done. I mean, I got one more year left, we have a great team, and then we go from there.”