NHL Rumor Shootdown: Auston Matthews Offer Sheet

The idea of the Rumor Rundown is to take a daily look at the biggest rumors in the NHL. Gathering buzz from some of the media’s most trusted sources, that series of speculative posts examines more closely the rumor and innuendo surrounding some of the game’s biggest names. Some rumors make sense, but others… well, not so much.

In the Rumor Shootdown, the idea is to take some of those rumors and apply a little common sense (or at least another perspective) to the speculation, dissect the rumor and provide some sort of idea as to how likely the hearsay actually is.

Clearly, not every rumor we report on will be analyzed, but some deserve a bit more attention. In this particular article, the rumor shootdown digests the idea that the Arizona Coyotes will make a run at Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews with an offer sheet.

The Auston Matthews Offer Sheet Rumor

Not long ago, hockey insider Bob McKenzie was on NBC Sports and during an interview suggested there was some speculation the Arizona Coyotes might be contemplating making a run for Matthews with an RFA offer sheet, should he make it to July 1, 2019, without a contract.

Nylander Matthews Maple Leafs CP
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews and William Nylander (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

McKenzie said:

“Now, there’s all sorts of rumors out there. And one of the rumors – and I stress a rumor. If it was a report, if there was any evidence to back this up, I would say it. But he’s an Arizona boy. So there’s all sorts of speculation that the Arizona Coyotes would come in on a one-year max deal, $16 million a year that would make it difficult for the Toronto Maple Leafs to match.”

While the idea is fun for fans who enjoy chaos, there’s not much of a chance this is going to happen.

Related: NHL Rumors: Bobrovsky, Simmonds, Matthews, More

NHL Offer Sheets Are Rare

While extremely rare, there is a feeling in the NHL these days that if an RFA offer sheet is going to be offered, it will be this summer — the last one was to Ryan O’Reilly in 2013. That said, while in theory that’s an interesting idea, in reality, offer sheets are genuinely difficult to make work. Without question, they drive up the price on players league-wide (owners hate them for that reason), the teams making the offers have to give up a substantial haul in draft pick compensation and the franchises being targeted can match any offer. Finally, they require that the offering team actually have the required compensation by the time it’s time to make the offer.

Ryan O'Reilly Sabres
Buffalo Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

The argument this summer is that the Maple Leafs might not be in a position to match, which makes for a golden opportunity to either scoop a player or force Toronto to spend more than they’d like and let someone else (like Mitch Marner) shake loose. It is true, with a tight salary cap problem on their hands in the coming seasons, the Leafs might be ripe for the picking. But, as McKenzie points out, it’s going to take a gigantic offer and would the Coyotes (or another team) actually offer $16 million to Matthews? One has to consider qualifying offers, signing bonuses and other factors that don’t make that such an easy decision for a team like Arizona.

Related: NHL Rumors: Schenn, Bobrovsky, Canadiens, and More

GM Collusion

Despite what people might think, collusion among GM’s when it comes to this sort of thing is real. While the idea is that each team is competing and there is some truth to the idea that if someone is sinking, a rival GM is more like to throw that person an anvil than a life jacket, GM’s understand the long-term ramifications of what an incredibly high offer sheet does to the rest of the restricted free agent class moving forward.

Patrik Laine Jets
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets, Mar. 10, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

And, if one looks at this year’s class, that’s a dangerous precedent to set for the league moving forward. The NHL is, year after year, turning into a young man’s game. There are players like Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, William Karlsson, Charlie McAvoy, listed as RFA’s, just to name a few. A huge offer for one potentially affects the numbers on the others.

Related: THW Podcast – Ep 6: 2019 NHL Predictions with JD and Kyle

The Maple Leafs Will Never Let It Get There

Considering that all of this only happens if Matthews reaches free agency on July 1, this is all a moot point if the Maple Leafs sign him, which they are likely to do. The organization may have trouble getting him on a team friendly contract, but there’s no doubt they’ll be able to sign him for far less than the $16 million McKenzie suggests Arizona might offer.

It also assumes that Matthews is more interested in playing at home than for a team that has a chance to win, repeatedly. Signing for that kind of money in Arizona means that he’s accepting the idea that he’ll not contend for a Stanley Cup for years. It’s hard to build a winner around a player making $16 million and even harder to tell a player that for only a couple million more, he has to leave one of the most potent teams in the NHL.

In the end, this is a fun rumor, but it’s just not very likely.