In a really good article written on The Hockey Writers, Jim Parsons looked at the radical idea that Auston Matthews, who has only one year left on his current contract and will become a restricted free agent after the 2021-2022 season, will be traded this offseason.
It was an idea put forward by NHL insider Andy Strickland not long ago. Strickland’s thesis was that, if Matthews wouldn’t re-up with the team, the Maple Leafs would have no option other than to trade him. It’s a pretty bold thought, but might it be true? Will the Maple Leafs have no choice but to trade Matthews this summer if the superstar forward goes unsigned?
Is there a chance that would happen if the team faces losing Matthews for nothing?
Is It Too Early to Consider the Possibility of Matthews Leaving?
Perhaps, it’s far too early to speculate about whether the Maple Leafs will trade Matthews. Certainly, because he’s one of the generational talents in the entire NHL, it’s no surprise that the team has expressed its commitment to Matthews. It’s also given that the Maple Leafs will do everything they can to keep Matthews in Toronto for the long term.
First, for Maple Leafs’ fans (like myself) who hope Matthews stays with the Blue & White, Strickland’s statement might seem to be only his opinion. It’s also simply speculation at this point. True – Matthews does have only one more season on his current contract. In addition, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that he won’t re-sign with the Maple Leafs.
It would be my guess that both parties would want to stick together. Matthews has expressed his love for the city of Toronto and the organization. He also freely speaks about the “love in the room” when he talks about his teammates, and he does use the word “love” specifically. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants out.
The Maple Leafs have stated their desire to keep him long-term. That said, if Matthews is swinging for the fences, it’s certainly possible his contract negotiations could drag on or hit a snag. All this said it’s premature to say that a trade is inevitable. In fact, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas has shown the propensity to be true to his players.
But, then, Dubas’ own contract has not been renewed. Might that matter? What if Dubas leaves? Would that impact Matthews’ decision?
Does July 1st Become a Drop-Dead Date for Extending Matthews?
The best scenario would be if Matthews signs an extension with the Maple Leafs before July 1, 2023. That’s the date his no-move clause kicks in. After that date, the team’s options for trading him become limited.
The team would have to get his approval to trade him to another team, and Matthews could use that as leverage to potentially dictate the terms of his new contract or destination. This would put the Maple Leafs in a bind. If the team were to allow that, they would have to feel confident they could re-sign Matthews to a long-term extension. And, without a pen to paper, anything could happen. Right?
Strickland suggests that if Matthews does not sign an extension with the Maple Leafs before his no-move clause kicks in on July 1, 2023, the team would have little choice but to trade him in the summer of 2022. If not, they might lose him for nothing in free agency. If Strickland is accurate that Matthews will choose to see what other teams might offer him on the open market, that brings up a fish-or-cut-bait scenario for the team.
There Are “Only” Opinions, but They Are Logical
It’s worth noting that these are just opinions from one NHL insider, and there’s no indication the Maple Leafs are actively considering trading Matthews. In fact, I would be that they aren’t. Right now, things are fully pointed to the postseason and doing well as the team chases Lord Stanley’s Cup.
However, Strickland’s points involve some logic. The fact is that the team would be ignorant to not become proactive in their negotiations with Matthews. To blindly believe he’s going to choose to stay with the team would be ignorant of these real possibilities. It might not be likely, but it could happen precisely as Strickland proposes it.
The Bottom Line Is for Matthews Is This
The bottom line, because hockey is a business and because contracts are negotiated between two parties, is that both parties must agree. If the Maple Leafs ignored these possible outcomes, they would not be acting wisely as a business.
The bottom line is that (a) Matthews might want to leverage this opportunity to sign a large contract and (b) the Maple Leafs want to avoid losing him for nothing if he chooses to become a free agent. Hence, the rub!
Matthews will have a no-move clause kicking in on July 1, 2023, which gives him significant leverage in any negotiations as of that date. Ergo, the Maple Leafs either try to negotiate a contract prior to that date or they simply might feel forced to explore the trade market. If they don’t, they would risk losing one of the NHL’s best players and getting nothing in return.
Will it happen? Who knows? But, it’s a possibility to be considered when the time comes. And that time is after the team that wins the Stanley Cup gets its photo taken on the ice after the last whistle is blown on the 2022-23 season. Let’s hope it’s the Maple Leafs.
Still, then what?