Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Galchenyuk & New Contracts

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I look back to share some insight about how great Auston Matthews’ season really was. Second, I’ll look at Alex Galchenyuk’s season with the Maple Leafs.

Related: Remembering Viktor Tikhonov: A Hockey Legend

Finally, I’ll logically speculate about the kinds of contracts that players might be willing to sign during this offseason in the context of COVID-19 and the belief that life might be getting back to normal – although for the NHL probably not quite by next season.

Item One: Auston Matthews Is Being Recognized and Rewarded for His Great Season

The aftermath of the first-round disaster might be too close yet for Maple Leafs’ fans; but, outside of Blue and White Nation, Austin Matthews is now being recognized for his great season. Matthews’ season was so good that he’s now been nominated for two awards in addition to his Rocket Richard Trophy.

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

Those two awards are the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who has shown the highest combination of sportsmanship and gentlemanly play combined with a high standard of on-ice success. Matthews was also named a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is presented to the player adjudged “to be the most outstanding player in the NHL” as voted by the other members of the NHLPA.

During the season, Matthews scored an NHL-leading 41 goals, added 12 game-winning goals, led the NHL with 222 shots on goal (with a shooting percentage of 18.47), with a point total of 41 goals, 25 assists, and 66 points in 52 games. He ranked fifth among NHL forwards with 21:33 of time on ice per game and ninth among all skaters with 47 takeaways.

Related: NWHL Roundup: Whale Sign a Trio, Beauts Re-Sign a Pair, Chuli Re-Signs with Six

Other finalists for the Lady Byng include Carolina Hurricanes’ defenseman Jaccob Slavin and Minnesota Wild’s defenseman Jared Spurgeon. Matthews has a great chance of winning the Lady Byng, because he took only 10 penalty minutes of penalties during the season, which was the second-fewest for any of the NHL’s top 25 scorers. Only the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin took fewer penalty minutes (6 minutes) in the 42 games he played. 

This is the second-straight season the 23-year-old Matthews has been a finalist for the award. He placed second in voting in 2019-20. Should he win the award, he’d become the eighth different Maple Leafs’ player to win the Lady Byng Trophy since 1967-68. Alexander Mogilny won the award in 2002-03.

Other than Matthews, the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award include the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. It’s likely McDavid’s award this season. He led the NHL with 105 points to win the Art Ross Trophy. Crosby led the Penguins with 62 points and has won the award three times during his career.

Item Two: Signing Alex Galchenyuk, and at What Cost?

One of the nice stories of the Maple Leafs’ season was the re-emergence of Alex Galchenyuk as a player of value. Even better it was with the Maple Leafs. Certainly, general manager Kyle Dubas spoke highly of Galchenyuk during his postseason media interviews.

Related: Maple Leafs and the Media: Trying to Control the Narrative

Dubas noted that Galchenyuk was “a great story. He came in as a player who had never played in the American League as a top-three overall pick. He came in, put in a ton of work with the development staff, just absolutely worked his butt off every day, and contributed to our group. He came in in the playoffs, produced, had a great game in Montreal in Game 4, and credit to him for that. It is just so fresh with him — he hasn’t been here for long — but there is definitely some interest in having him return.”

I think it was interesting at the level of appreciation for Galchenyuk – including me. Maple Leafs’ fans have a tendency to think he came to the team and lit it up offensively. That wasn’t the case. When you look at his numbers in his time with Toronto, they were decent but not overwhelming. In 26 games, he scored four goals and eight points for 12 points.

Galchenyuk was on an expiring contract for $1.05 million. Pure speculation, but I’m guessing Dubas offers him a one-year contract at $900,000 (which is what the organization signed Jimmy Vesey for prior to last season). If he does and if I were Galchenyuk’s agent – and in the absence of a huge offer outside the Maple Leafs – I would sign that contract for two reasons.

First, Galchenyuk is likely assured that he’ll play top-six minutes; so, if he proves himself and scores close to 60 points during the 2021-22 season, he could leverage a longer-term contract somewhere in two seasons. Second, my guess is that contracts for 2022-23 will be higher because logic tells me the salary cap ceiling will be increased with the optimism of a pandemic behind us and fans back in the stands. We’ll see.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As I noted in an earlier post, I think this will be an interesting offseason for signing contracts. Most teams will wait until after the Seattle Kraken expansion draft before they ink players to contracts. That means a lot of waiting and a lot of speculation.

At the same time, logic tells me that many signings will be one-year terms. That strategy allows both players and organizations to have maximum flexibility about how they approach the 2022-23 season. As I noted above, my guess is that there will be increased optimism among sports fans, who will flock back into arenas to watch their NHL teams play. That optimism and the working capital it brings will push the NHL to increase the salary cap for each team, which will allow increases in salary levels.

Related: Zach Hyman Won’t Be Leaving the Maple Leafs or Toronto

Given that logic, in the meantime, similar to this season when general manager Dubas signed a high number of one-year contracts, my guess is that the team will also sign a number of players to one-year contracts. And most of those contracts will be near NHL league minimum.

In short, I’m looking forward to a very dynamic end of the summer for the organization as it fleshes out its roster prior to the beginning of the next NHL season. But we’ll have to wait a bit for any of that to happen.

Sign up for our free ‘Maple Leafs Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.