Issue 1: After signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with his hometown team, will John Tavares be able to handle the pressure and live up to expectations? Thus far, the answer has been a resounding “yes.”
Issue 2: With so many important contracts coming up, will the Leafs sign or trade William Nylander? After a long, long game of chicken, the two parties decided to keep their marriage intact.
In the Beginning…
Since being taken first overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, it’s been expected by many that Matthews would be the golden child for the Maple Leafs. As a result, he’d have the highest salary, get the most ice time, and likely have the biggest impact on whether or not the team wins its first Stanley Cup since 1967.
Marner, drafted fourth overall by the Maple Leafs in 2015, faced early skepticism. Openly, some wondered if the speedy, undersized winger would be able to physically hold up in the NHL. If so, then great, he’d ride shotgun with Matthews as the team takes a run at glory. He’d be a star, but likely not the main attraction.
But, a funny thing has happened: Marner (after two productive, yet inconsistent seasons) is the engine of the 2018-19 edition of the Maple Leafs. As of February 1, he leads the team with 62 points in 49 games played. What’s more, when a top-tier guy is struggling, it is often Marner that coach Mike Babcock will use to give that player a jumpstart.
Now, Matthews is certainly no slouch. He’s a 21-year-old three-time all-star who if not for a wicked shoulder injury earlier this season might very well be tied with, or ahead of, Marner in the Maple Leafs’ scoring race.
The current problem, however, is that Marner’s rise to superstardom is likely happening way faster than the Maple Leafs had anticipated. While the team likely figured Matthews’ first contract outside of his rookie deal would be near what Connor McDavid is now making ($100 million over 8 years), it’s hard to think the MLSE brass figured Marner would also be worthy of walking in that neighborhood so soon.
It’s been widely reported that the Marner camp would rather negotiate a new deal after Matthews’ is signed, sealed and delivered. What’s more, some believe that Marner’s representatives think the deals should be close in financial stature.
Really, you can’t blame them. If you represented Marner, wouldn’t you rather go for the home run than the hometown discount? Of course. Just because the player may have hit his superstar stride ahead of schedule that doesn’t mean he should have to wait for a mega payday.
The Maple Leafs need to play this situation very carefully. Offer sheets have been a BIG topic of discussion this season and it’s hard to ignore the possibility that certain teams wouldn’t mind parting with draft picks to snare a Matthews or a Marner, if the Maple Leafs dilly dally. It’s a long shot, but something that shouldn’t be ignored – especially if the latter expects his contract to be on par with #34.
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