Auston Matthews’ Future Is Filled With Options & Possibilities

In one of the most famous of all Shakespeare’s soliloquies, Hamlet speaks the following words: “To be or not be to be.” Hamlet faces the angst of a crisis and wonders what he should do. In two years, Auston Matthews will face a crisis. While it’s not the life and death question Hamlet faced, the question Matthews will face is “To Be Leaf or Not To Be Leaf.”

Related: Canucks Still Have Trade Partners For J.T. Miller

Obviously, we’re having some fun playing with the words of an old literary classic here; however, the question for Matthews and, secondarily for Maple Leafs’ fans, is real enough. In this post, we’ll explore what some of Matthews’ choices and options are for his future.

Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau Shocked the Calgary Flames, And … ?

To be transparent, we believe Matthews has become such a foundational player with the Maple Leafs that we can’t see him leaving. He might already be the best Maple Leafs’ player in the history of the franchise, and we don’t think that’s lost on him.

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Still, that doesn’t mean that the Maple Leafs as an organization couldn’t face a similar experience as the Calgary Flames faced. It might be unlikely, but it’s not out of the question.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, now formerly of the Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ever since both Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk announced their desire to play in the United States, there has been a lot of speculation about American-born players being unwilling or hesitant to play in Canada.  

Should this duo of (now) ex-Flames exodus affect Maple Leafs’ fans whose speculation has led to concerns that, once Auston Matthews’ present contract expires in two seasons, he too would prefer to head South of the Border?  

What Do Fans and the Media Think about Matthews’ Staying?

As for how the media, hockey analysts, and insiders feel about it, we have read that we can count on Matthews leaving the team for the sunnier South. We have also read that there’s no chance Matthews would leave the hockey mecca of Toronto. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

So who’s right? The direct and easiest answer to that question is that no one other than Matthews himself can know what his intentions are. And, if he isn’t talking, whether to the media or to someone else who would be willing to relay that information to the media, we won’t know what his intentions are until it happens.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Matthews Learned His Hockey Skills in a Phoenix Thrift Store

Matthews could be completely happy in Toronto. All the attention the Maple Leafs get and the pressures that come with it might just be the fuel he needs to perform. Of all the Maple Leafs, he seems the most unfazed by all the hubbub.  

Are the Maple Leafs Preparing to Re-Sign Matthews?

As for the Maple Leafs, it appears they might be willing to open the vault to make Matthews the highest-paid player ever in the NHL. Since Matthews signed his five-year, $11.64 million deal, the Maple Leafs have only signed three players beyond the spring of 2024. 

Those players are Mitch Marner, signed for one more year at $10.9 million; Morgan Rielly, signed for eight years at $7.5 million starting next season; and, the newly-acquired Calle Jarnkrok, who recently signed for $2.1 million per season over the next four years.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Looking two years ahead, at this point in time, the Maple Leafs have $53 million in cap space available in the summer of 2024 based on the present salary cap of $82.5 million. That salary cap is sure to go up more by then leaving the Maple Leafs with potentially millions more salary-cap space when it comes to sitting down to negotiate a new deal with Matthews. 

Related: Can Morgan Rielly Win the Norris Trophy in 2019-20?

We fully expect Matthews will be offered as close to the highest limit allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement by the Maple Leafs. [With an $82.5 million salary cap upper limit, Matthews could earn $16.5 million, or one-fifth of the team’s total cap limit].

Would Being Offered the Highest NHL Salary Ever Be Enough for Matthews to Stay?

The truth is that, even if he were offered the highest salary any NHL team can pay, it still does not guarantee Matthews will want to remain in Toronto. 

There are plenty of states in the US that have significantly lower income taxes than anywhere in Canada. Using the income tax calculator provided by the Gavingroup.ca, a player making $15 million in Florida would get to keep $2.5 million in after-tax money than he would be playing in Toronto. We don’t care how much money anyone earns, being able to pocket an extra $2.5 million per year is a pretty attractive argument. 

Other US states have equally low-income tax rates. Even higher-taxed states like New York or California have rates low enough that a person making $15 million would pocket about half a million more. Looking at those numbers, it makes us wonder why anyone would consider playing in Canada over playing in the United States. Obviously, that is not a concern for a number of  NHL players. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Needless to say, wherever Matthews plays he is going to make a significant amount of money. 

What if Money Isn’t the Most Important Factor for Matthews?

If money is not an important factor to Matthews, what else could motivate him in his next contract? After being born in San Ramon, California, just outside of San Francisco, Matthews’ family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, when he was an infant. That’s where he was raised. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Jarome Iginla: Calgary Flames Hall of Famer

Despite not being a Canadian, we feel that Matthews realizes the significance that bringing a Stanley Cup to Toronto would mean. That in itself might be considered a big enough incentive to keep him in Toronto as long as he feels the chances are good that it would happen.

However, it might be even more important to Matthews to help build a successful NHL franchise and bring a Stanley Cup to his own doorstep in Arizona. 

We fully realize the chances of the present ownership building a successful NHL franchise appear to be slim to none, at least in the near future. They just recently signed a five-year lease to play in Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat arena. 

However, the Arizona Coyotes are in negotiations to build a $700 million arena in Tempe Arizona. If the plans go through they would move into the new arena for the 2025-26 or 2026-27 season. 

Let’s Play What If

What if Matthews was ambitious enough, and driven enough, to use his hockey talents to build an NHL team empire?  

Think back to 1998. At that time Mario Lemieux was owed $26 million in back pay by the financially struggling owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Lemieux helped form a partnership group that bought the team using that $26 million as his share of the deal, with Lemieux holding 25 percent of the shares of the new company.  

Mario Lemieux is now part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins
(Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

The Penguins went on to become one of the NHL’s more successful franchises. They became a powerhouse team winning three Stanley Cups. In 2021, the Penguins were sold to Fenway Sports Group. Mario Lemieux’s 25 percent share of the team reaped him a rumored $350 million. In addition, he was still allowed to retain some shares in the new company. 

What if Matthews is thinking of doing something similar? Not only could it be a good business investment for him, it would be a great situation for the NHL. We could see the NHL being behind the idea 100 percent. 

Obviously, Our Post Is Only Speculation About Matthews’ Decisions

Of course, this post only consists of speculations and what-ifs.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Undergoing a Transformation

As we stated at the start of this post, the most direct and easiest answer to what Matthews plans are is that no one knows. Just Matthews. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]