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Contract: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner make the Canadiens look good
Credit: Nov 12, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki (14) celebrates with teammates including forward Cole Caufield (22) after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced thatAuston Matthews would become the NHL’s highest-paid player from 2024-2025. From 2024 to 2028, over four years, he will earn $13.25 million per year.

The majority of the contract will be paid every July 1.

The good news for Maple Leafs fans is that we knew Matthews wanted a high-priced four-year contract. He got what he wanted, and will spend the next few years of his prime in Toronto.

He wanted a four-year contract like this, he got it quickly and that makes him happy. That’s a positive thing for the fans.

That said, since we know the Maple Leafs wanted to sign him for a longer term and the Matthews camp didn’t budge, we know that in four years, the forward will be in the same position.

In 46 months and counting, Matthews will be eligible to sign another contract. And you know as well as I do that life goes by fast: we’ll wake up one day and it’ll be July 2027, one year before the star’s contract expires.

From the player’s point of view, I really like the contract. After all, he’ll be 26 soon, and he’ll be able to sign another huge contract in preparation for his 31st birthday season. So he’ll be worth a lot if he keeps playing well.

And who knows, when the time comes, where the contracts will be.

Matthews understands that handcuffing himself to a big contract may not be ideal. Whether it’s for the money or for his living situation, he clearly sees basketball players doing whatever they want because no one has a seven-, eight- or nine-year contract to hold them back.

Look at the NHL: the players who are a year away from autonomy and who play in Canada (Pierre-Luc Dubois, Matthew Tkachuk and Alex DeBrincat, among others) have done what they wanted. If Matthews is no longer happy in Toronto, that time will come in his own time.

Because you know as well as I do that just because a player is happy now doesn’t mean he’ll be happy in two, three, four or five years. Things can change quickly.

He gives himself the option, when he’s not too old, to take advantage of the opportunity to negotiate again. And in a few years’ time, the ceiling will have risen quite a bit, let’s face it.

That’s from his point of view. But what about the Leafs?

Signing the player for $13.25 million was a necessary evil. The guy had to stay in town, and the club obviously didn’t have much leverage in the negotiations, since the player got what he wanted in terms of money and years.

But at least he’s staying. Nor will there be any year-long controversy over whether Matthews is on his way out or not, since now the file is well and truly official.

There’s still William Nylander (who was supposed to sign first, but didn’t), but let’s just say it’s less serious now.

In reality, it’s true that $13.25M is more the price of a seven- or eight-year contract, not just a four-year deal. That said, Matthews is fully within his rights.

That’s why the contract is creating a bit of a row in Toronto: people would have liked to see Matthews commit to a long-term deal.

Many people have made the comparison with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki in Montreal, since both players signed eight-year contracts when they could.

Is this a good thing for the CH? Of course it is. After all, if it hadn’t made Marc Bergevin and Kent Hughes happy, the contracts wouldn’t have been signed.

That said, the situations are different. Why are they different? Because of age. Nick Suzuki is 24 and will be a free agent at age 31. Cole Caufield is 22 and will be a free agent at 30. If they play well, both will be able to sign another contract.

Matthews is 25 and will be 26 in a few months. He’ll be a free agent at 30, just like the two CH guys.

That said, if you want to play devil’s advocate, it’s worth pointing out that Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, when they were young (like the Habs’ leaders right now, like), signed shorter-term contracts.

In fact, the only three contracts with an average value of at least $10 million that have been signed for less than seven years in NHL history are all in Toronto, which is pretty crazy.

Are Matthews and Marner better than Caufield and Suzuki? Yes. The CH guys aren’t 60-goal or 100-point scorers right now.

So it’s a different situation, but that shouldn’t stop Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton from being proud to have their two long-term stars under the $8 million mark.

I think the Habs are on the right track with this one – and thanks to Marc Bergevin for the captain’s contract, which laid the groundwork for the Flanelle’s salary hierarchy.

Remember that right now, the Leafs have to work knowing that William Nylander will be a free agent in a year’s time. John Tavares and Mitch Marner will be free in two seasons. They have big forwards, but they’re due to sign soon… and they don’t get the Leafs into the third round of the playoffs.

In gusto

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