Auston Matthews is simply Auston Matthews. There’s really no one like him. He’s a generational star, and those kinds of players come around only, well, every generation. The Toronto Maple Leafs are fortunate that they have him on their team.
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Matthews has been a driving force for the team since he joined the NHL. He scored four goals in his first NHL game, and he hasn’t looked back. He now holds the franchise goal-scoring record with 60 goals. He was the Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player in 2022.
But, will he stay with the team? Or, as was the case with Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames after last season, will the management feel it has to move him? If he decides to walk into free agency, the organization risks losing one of the top assets in the NHL for no compensation. While that would be sad for Maple Leafs fans, from a business point of view, it could be disastrous.
A Huge Deadline Is Looming with Matthews’ No-Move Clause Racing Down the Track
There is rightful anxiety building about Matthews’ future and potential contract extension, especially after recent changes within the Maple Leafs’ organization that offer the possibility that life as he knows it is about to implode around him. The truth is that he cannot actually sign a new contract extension until July 1 — the very day his no-move clause kicks in. But, if there’s any inkling that Matthews wishes to test free agency (and there is at least one rumour to that effect), that would/should cause the team to spring to action.
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What is the variety of factors that logically surround Matthews’ decision about signing a contract extension and staying with this team? Have the changes within the organization moved him to rethink his desire to be in Toronto? Will he still retain the loyalty he noted toward his teammates and the organization if other changes occur?
What Is Matthews’ Commitment to Toronto?
Matthews has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Toronto for the long term. He’s thrived in the city, seems unfazed by the unique set of pressures involved in this difficult market, has developed strong relationships with his teammates, and says that he genuinely enjoys being part of the organization.
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The one black mark on the young center’s resume is also shared by everyone in the organization. Postseason success has eluded the team. That weighs on everyone. The absence of a Stanley Cup victory — or even a long journey down the road toward one — is a setback. But, Matthews (and company) believes in the players in the dressing room and remains optimistic about the future.
What Is the Impact of Managerial Changes?
The departure of general manager Kyle Dubas, who shared a close relationship with Matthews adds an element of uncertainty to the situation. They not only shared the same agent, but they also seemed to share the same philosophy. Matthews fit the organization in part because Dubas made it so.
Related: Maple Leafs Risk Losing Matthews if They Let Dubas Depart
If coach Sheldon Keefe also leaves, as speculation suggests, could that further complicate Matthews’ perspective? With two key figures potentially exiting the organization, how will Matthews react? Will there be any implications on his decision? At the exit interviews where Matthews noted his intention to stay with the Maple Leafs, the changes had not yet been made. It would seem illogical to believe that Matthews would not be weighing upon the personal impact of these changes.
Matthews Was Part of a Core Players’ Group that He Grew to Appreciate
Matthews often speaks about the camaraderie and unity among the core players within the Maple Leafs. He specifically notes that “there’s a lot of love in the room,” and that the team is tight. However, the question arises: if his friends on the team were traded, how would it affect his mindset?
Team president Brendan Shanahan’s reported assurance to the core players about staying together demonstrates his intention to maintain a cohesive unit. But I have to believe that statement could change because circumstances are also ever-changing. Can Matthews trust that Shanahan’s promise will hold true? Or, might that change as well?
Brendan Shanahan Has Emerged as the Organization’s Power Broker
The role of Shanahan has emerged as key to the team’s future. That said, Shanahan’s statement to the core players raises questions about whether it’s accurate. Would a team president unequivocally declare that the players should plan on being together? What if the need rose for further changes?
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It doesn’t seem logical that, as president of the team, Shanahan would tie the hands of a new general manager. That would especially be true if it were Brad Treliving, who as GM for the Calgary Flames watched Johnny Gaudreau walk into free agency and sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets last offseason. The Flames didn’t make the postseason in 2022-23. Treliving would have to believe that the error on his part not to move Gaudreau had to have been a factor.
Logic tells me that Shanahan either would not have assured the team’s core or he would have done it with the caveat that it was “as things stand now.”
The Maple Leafs Could Face a No-Movement Clause Conundrum
The Maple Leafs’ decision to grant no-movement clauses to both Matthews and William Nylander could become an issue. If neither agrees to sign an extension before these clauses kick in, the team must depend upon the trust and commitment that good relationships entail.
However, the sports environment is nothing if it’s not dynamic. That was evident over the past two weeks in Blue and White Nation. Unforeseen circumstances absolutely altered plans. A long-time employee was let go because of comments made during a media presser. That certainty of change has to beg the question of whether the organization can still rely on these agreements. Or, are they too subject to revision if circumstances change?
The Bottom Line
Certainly, Matthews knows the team is counting on him to sign a contract extension. Perhaps the speculation in this post is all moot because Matthews has decided to stay with the Maple Leafs. We simply cannot know for certain.
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However, not to overstate the issue because we are only talking sports (after all), but the immediate future of the Maple Leafs hangs in the balance. While Matthews has expressed his desire to stay in Toronto, several factors could sway his decision.
The departure of Kyle Dubas, the potential exit of Sheldon Keefe, the possible trade of core players, and the uncertain nature of sports management all contribute to the complexity of the situation. Ultimately, the actions and decisions of team president Shanahan and the organization will significantly shape Matthews’ commitment to the team and the city.
It would be silly if they did not.