Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Matthews & Salary-Cap Increase?

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at Auston Matthews’ season as noted by his multiple nominations for awards after award. I’ll also note former Maple Leafs’ player Patrick Marleau’s recent award nomination.

Finally, I’ll share some global news that I believe will likely impact the entire NHL and specifically the Maple Leafs as they plan to build their 2021-22 NHL roster.

Related: Should the Maple Leafs Trade Mitch Marner? Not Even for Sidney Crosby

Item One: Patrick Marleau Nominated for Masterton Trophy

After every NHL season, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL player who best demonstrated the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. This week it was announced that Patrick Marleau was one of the three finalists for that award.

Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau Andreas Johnsson
Patrick Marleau when he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

On the score sheet, it wasn’t the greatest season for Marleau. However, he accomplished something no one else has ever done in NHL history. He surpassed Gordie Howe’s NHL record for most games played in a single NHL career. When Howe retired, he had played in a total of 1,767 games; and, when the 2020-21 season ended, Marleau had played 1,779 games.

Perhaps more interesting, Marleau wants more! According to NBC Sports Bay Area, Marleau wants to return for the 2021-22 campaign.

Although Marleau’s 42nd birthday is in September, he noted recently that “I feel like I still have a lot to give out there, a lot more than what happened this year for myself personally and points-wise.”

Marleau added, “I’m eager to have a really good season and get back to playing the way I’m used to.”

Related: The Bizarre Naming History of TD Garden

The question is if the Sharks have any interest in signing him. Although Marleau brings both leadership and experience to a team, his on-ice skills have declined over the years. He had only four goals and nine points in 56 games during the 2020-21 season and averaged 13:17 minutes of time on the ice.

Marleau still has one NHL record to hit. As it stands, he’s only 54 games behind Doug Jarvis for the most consecutive NHL games played in a career with 910. If he’s signed – especially with the Sharks – he could have a chance to surpass that milestone during the regular season. Marleau began his NHL career during the 1997-98 season, and his Hall of Fame career includes scoring 566 goals and 1,197 points.

Item Two: Auston Matthews Is Being Recognized with Multiple Award Nominations

If you want to know how good a season Auston Matthews put together during 2020-21, all you have to do is look at the end-of-season list of nominations he’s accrued. Here’s the list:

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy

This award goes each season to the NHL’s top goal scorer. This season Matthews led the NHL with 41 goals in 52 games. The 23-year-old Matthews was the first Maple Leafs’ player in 75 years to lead the league in goals. He’s also the first US-born player in 24 years to do so. Most interesting, because the trophy was only introduced at the end of the 1998-99 season, Matthews is also the first Toronto player to win the trophy.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Ted Lindsay Award

This award goes each season “to the most outstanding player in the NHL,” as voted by the other NHL players (fellow members of the NHLPA). Other finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award are Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. The Edmonton Oilers’ McDavid led the NHL with 105 points (which automatically gives him the Art Ross Trophy). Sidney Crosby led the Pittsburgh Penguins this season with 62 points and has been a three-time winner of the Lindsay Award.

The Lady Byng Award

The Lady Byng Award is given to the NHL player who is judged to have exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of on-ice ability. Matthews finished second in voting last season and has a good chance to win it for the first time in his career.

Related: Canadiens Getting the Leadership They Expected From Staal & Perry

The Hart Memorial Trophy

Most recently, Matthews has been a Hart Trophy finalist. The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded after each NHL season to the player judged most valuable to his team. The other finalists for this award also include Colorado Avalanche’s center Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton Oilers’ center Connor McDavid. Ironically, all of their teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup chase.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

One thing COVID-19 pandemic has showed us all is that NHL hockey does live in a bubble. The NHL is absolutely impacted by global trends and events. Today Reuters international news organization announced that economic recovery has started to boom and even predicts that inflation rises are likely temporary as the economy transitions to a higher level of activity coming out of the pandemic.

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

Clearly, Maple Leafs’ fan and a regular commenter on THW posts Stan Smith hasn’t missed that fact. Earlier Smith shared with me that he’d been watching playoff games from the United States and that US-based fans had flocked back to the rinks. No wonder really; if they’re like my family, they’re starved to get out of the house and do anything.

Here’s a prediction. Given these two trends, (a) the economies of both Canada and the United States are rising and (b) NHL fans are flocking back to the rinks it’s not far to move to the fact that the NHL salary cap will rise sooner than originally thought.

In addition, in late April the NHL announced a new television deal with Disney’s ESPN and Turner’s TNT that increases the NHL’s coffers to the financial tune of about $385 million each year. The specifics are that Disney is reportedly paying over $410 million a year for the rights and Turner will add about $225 million. Previously the NHL was receiving $250 million from NBC each season.

There are some predictions that it means each NHL team might receive about $8 million in extra payments. That would change things for the NHL and certainly for the Maple Leafs. Hockey fans too easily blame Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas for making rash contract decisions about John Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner.

Auston Matthews John Tavares
Auston Matthews celebrates with Mitch Marner and John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Granted, the core four of the team is currently signed for a large percentage of the salary cap space. But considering everything that could have been known prior to the pandemic, only someone who ignores facts could blame Maple Leafs’ management for the current salary-cap shortfall. Who saw a global pandemic?

Given this situation and the appetite for optimism that Gary Bettman and other NHL’s leaders will be anxious to engage as a way to show things are moving back to normal, I predict a salary-cap increase for the 2022-23 season. This increase means the Maple Leafs will soon gain more salary-cap wiggle room to add to the roster.

Maple Leafs’ fans have to believe that Dubas and company who, like them or not, cannot be blamed for lacking intelligence. They are already ahead of me on this thought. It also probably means the team could keep their core four, might also only trade higher-salaried players on expiring contracts (read Morgan Rielly), would fill in with cheaper contracts for the 2021-22 season and hope for the best, and then plan for a bigger spend for 2023-24.

Obviously, all this is speculation; however, the logic of it makes sense from a financial point of view, a hockey point of view, and a human nature point of view. Better days seem to be ahead for the NHL and Maple Leafs’ fans.

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