I’m an Auston Matthews fan. He’s one of the best players in the NHL. And he brings energy, good defence, and lots of scoring to the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, for as good as he is, he hasn’t helped the team get far during the postseason.
As I’ve been reading the responses of readers to the posts I write on The Hockey Writers, there are a number of Maple Leafs’ fans who believe that Matthews should be traded.
In this post, I’m not going to argue with them. What I do want to do is to try to honestly capture the case they are making as a way to add to the trade debate.
Analyzing the Maple Leafs’ Current Situation
The Maple Leafs find themselves at a crossroads. Former general manager (GM) Kyle Dubas committed much of the team’s salary-cap funds to what has come to be known as the Core Four. They’ve played well during the regular season, but have not had success during the postseason. Now Dubas is gone.
There’s a new Maple Leafs’ GM being hired in Brad Treliving. That announcement was made today. Now Treliving has some work to do before July 1 when both Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions. But should the team sign both, move one of the other, or (even) move both?
There’s Talk Of a Matthews’ Trade: Why Might It Make Sense?
Always in the realm of possibility is the potential trade of Matthews. In fact, it has become a topic of discussion among some fans. Would trading Matthews be a viable solution to address the team’s cap struggles and playoff disappointments? That’s a key question.
In the following part of the post, I’ll try to share what I have seen as the fans’ desire to trade Matthews and why they think that might be a good idea.
Reasons to Trade Matthews
Reason One: Salary Cap Constraints Caused by the Core 4
One primary argument for trading Matthews revolves around the financial strain caused by his huge contract. While he’s not alone there, his is the biggest contract that could be moved. Contracts to John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Nylander also take up a chunk of the available salary cap space. That’s what many fans believe is the key issue.
These contracts have become a liability that gives the Maple Leafs a limited ability to address crucial areas such as goaltending and solidifying the team’s defensive corps. For five years, the team has grappled with salary cap issues, hindering their ability to build a well-rounded roster. It’s time to cut off the problem. Trading Matthews would accomplish that.
Reason Two: Matthews’ Playoff Performance Has Not Carried His Team
Critical fans also point to Matthews’ underwhelming playoff performances. He’s been great during the regular season, but not nearly as great during the postseason. That’s a key reason to consider a trade.
Matthews has failed to deliver (and lead his team offensively) when it matters most – during the postseason. Although it might be a lot of pressure, he’s making the big contract but not carrying the team at the right times. It’s fair that fans hold him individually accountable for his playoff struggles.
That lack of postseason success also raises concerns about his leadership suitability. Trading Matthews could provide an opportunity to acquire assets that better fit the team’s postseason needs. He might not be the guy.
Reason Three: There’s a Need for a Cultural Shift and a New Team Identity
Currently, the team is over-influenced by young and inexperienced players. These include Matthews and Marner, and they work to shape the team’s culture. Many fans believe these two have generated a culture that’s simply too laid-back and complacent. The atmosphere within the Maple Leafs’ team isn’t intense enough to win during the postseason.
By trading Matthews, the organization can help facilitate the kind of cultural shift that it needed. Specifically, the organization needs to prioritize a hardworking and gritty team identity that focuses on a blue-collar work ethic.
Reason Four: The Team Needs to Build a Solid Foundation
Fans who advocate for trading Matthews argue that the team needs a shift in team identity towards a “lunch bucket crew” approach. This strategy emphasizes a well-rounded team rather than relying solely on superstar talent.
By acquiring assets through trades, the Maple Leafs can reshape its roster and build a foundation from the net out. Strong goaltending is also needed, but that’s not easy to find on the cheap. As well, the team needs some funds to address the defensive shortcomings that have plagued the team in recent years.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, Matthews’ departure is far from inevitable. He’s likely to stay with the team. However, the arguments of those who believe Matthews should be traded are worth considering – or at least not dismissed as silly on their face.
The Maple Leafs (every offseason) must comprehensively evaluate the team’s culture, performance, and long-term goals before making any decision about trading anyone. Ultimately, the focus should be to build a sustainable path to success – especially in the postseason.
Does this mean parting ways with a talented player such as Auston Matthews? There is a group of Maple Leafs’ fans who believe just that.