Auston Matthews recently expressed that he is not worried about contract negotiations. Believe it or not, this is a good sign.
If there is a constant that underlines the way in which news is circulated throughout Leafs Nation, it is that of a quality of inconstancy.
Take the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round exit from the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs as an example. Going into the third period of Game 7, all signs pointed to a redemption tale for the books — a moment in which the Buds would ultimately snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and in doing so eliminate one of their most despised rivals.
But of course, this did not happen. Instead, the Boston Bruins managed to turn the tables against Mike Babcock’s men, winning the game by a score of 7-4, and in turn removing the boys in blue and white from contention for Lord Stanley’s trophy. Defender Jake Gardiner, in particular, bore the brunt of criticism, as the talk circuit of hockey media was rapidly enveloped by constant questions about the Maple Leafs’ credibility — or lack thereof — in the postseason.
Just a few months later, John Tavares — arguably the most talked about free agent in the history of the sport — took the world of puck by storm, signing a seven-year, $77 million contract to play for his hometown team. Once again, the narrative shifted — albeit in a manner that rendered the Maple Leafs destined for success, as the club topped betting lists geared toward playoff glory.
Now, with reminders that “Tavares is a Leaf” abound, hockey lovers need something else to obsess over. Cue the ongoing degree of speculative assertion surrounding Auston Matthews.
Simply put, to argue that the 20-year-old is not imperative to the organization’s future success is to commit a fallacy. Matthews is surely the team’s most valuable asset, and the extent of his value is soon to be measured by the rumblings surrounding the signing of his second contract.
Speaking about the possibility of negotiations extending into the 2018-19 regular season, Matthews remarked, “Honestly, I don’t mind either way … If I sign before the season, during or after; I’ll leave it up to the management staff, my agents. I’ll go out there, play hockey and not worry about that stuff.”
Naturally, fans of the Buds may be inclined to panic. As Tyler Seguin‘s recent comments show, it’s not every day that a club’s superstar speaks rather amiably about one of the most intense processes in the world of contemporary sport.
However, it’s in the midst of moments like these when the words of GM Kyle Dubas begin to carry an enormous amount of weight. Asked back in early July about the prospect of keeping the Maple Leafs’ “big four” — Matthews, Tavares, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — together, Dubas was bold in his utterance: “We can, and we will.”
It’s a statement that has been echoed by the aforementioned Matthews, as well as Nylander in recent discussions with reporters. In early August, the 22-year-old right winger spoke to TSN about contract negotiations: “That’s between my agent and [general manager Kyle Dubas] … They’re talking about it, so I’m not really into that right now. Once it gets closer to the season, I think I’ll be more dialed [in]. I mean, Kyle says it’s going to take some time, so I’m not too stressed about it.”
Indeed, the Buds’ calmness should serve as a source of relief for fans of the organization. The Shanaplan has always been predicated on two recurring thoughts: the idea that the process must be trusted and the notion that good hockey must be played.
So for the time being, Leafs Nation, it’s more than safe to be cautiously optimistic. Negotiations with the team’s superstars may not yet be over, but both the franchise’s administration and its players have been united in efforts to stress the importance of marrying collegiality with an understanding of the timely nature of the work that underlies contract extensions.
After all, Dubas would not have spoken so candidly if he wasn’t confident about the underpinnings of the process at hand.