The Toronto Maple Leafs, much to the consternation of many of their fans, have chosen to pay four players a large chunk of the team’s salary cap.
In fact, a recent tween noted that the Maple Leafs’ “Core Four” of John Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner has combined to score 49 percent of all the points their team has produced in the 2022-23 regular season. Ironically, the Core Four also take up 49 percent of the team’s salary cap.
Obviously, the tweet below might have a bit out of date. However, given the streak that Marner, Nylander, and Matthews are on, any change probably means that the Core Four players are producing more than half of the team’s total points. For example, Nylander had five points by himself in the team’s last game against the Calgary Flames – an ugly 5-4 overtime victory.
Maple Leafs’ Fans’ Issues with the Team’s Salary-Cap Structure
I happen to believe the Maple Leafs’ are wise in paying so much money to so few players. It’s a brilliant strategy that makes the team successful and helps the Maple Leafs ice a viable contender each and every season. (That topic might become its own post later on.) I also believe the organization’s salary plan was highjacked by the impact of the pandemic. And, who can argue that such difficult times are anyone’s fault?
However, I recognize that I am in the minority of Maple Leafs’ fans in that respect. Many fans believe the exact opposite. They believe that Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas erred mightly when he first signed John Tavares for so much money. They also believe he erred even worse by not getting Matthews to sign for eight years. Finally, they continue to believe Dubas was taken to the woodshed by Marner’s agent in those contract negotiations.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Nylander, Murray & Samsonov
Nylander Is in a Different Case with Fans – Although Not All Is “Forgiven”
About Nylander, there’s been some softening in how his contract’s perceived. For most fans, given Nylander’s current success, the narrative has shifted from Nylander getting too much money to Nylander’s being on a team-friendly contract. Still, there’s a sense that Nylander is the poster child for hockey’s bad habits; and, give or take a few months, he’ll fall back into those bad habits.
Some fans will never forgive Nylander, even if he asks for it by the quality of his play. The most egregious artifact of Nylander’s infamy is the fact that he didn’t work hard enough to chase down a puck during the first round of last season’s post-season playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The icing cost the team nothing, but it represents a focal point for fans. Perhaps he didn’t work hard enough; but, he remains painted with the same brush all these games later.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits: November Surprise & Winning Ugly
Other Maple Leafs Core Four Supporters
I’m not alone, it seems, in supporting the salaries of the Core Four. An article yesterday in Maple Leafs Insider came to the support of the Core Four by trotting out The Athletic’s just-released player report cards. These report cards assess the value of each player, positive or negative, based on the value of their current contracts.
In that post, author Ryan Smitheram suggested that “to no surprise, (which, given my experiences, I would contend with – some are surprised) the “Core 4″ are proving to be worth every penny and more on their current contracts.”
He then goes on to say that, because the team is now past the quarter-mark of the season, the sample size of stats for the report cards sufficiently provides an accurate “market value.”
Each Cor Four Player Is Contributing
We are now almost one-third of the way into a season where the Maple Leafs started slowly, but have picked up the pace. In the team’s last 20 games, they’ve put together a 14-1-5 record. That’s pretty good.
During that time, Marner has engaged in a 22-game consecutive point-scoring streak. Matthews leads the Maple Leafs with 20 points during his last 14 games. Nylander is in rarified company with his 17 goals, which tie him with Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Kirill Kaprizov for ninth place in the NHL. And John Tavares is almost at a point-a-game streak and is winning far more faceoffs than he loses.
The bottom line (literally) of this post is that the Maple Leafs Core Four is – from all objective analysis – not overpaid insofar as hockey salaries go. Far from it in fact.
Instead, they are one of the NHL’s biggest bargains.
Related: EX-MAPLE LEAFS AUBE-KUBEL, KASE & RITCHIE: HOW THEY’RE DOING?