As discussed here, Auston Matthews is one of only four unsigned players selected in the top-10 of this June’s entry draft. Two of those players, Clayton Keller (7th overall to Arizona) and Tyson Jost (10th overall to Colorado) have firm commitments to NCAA programs and are not expected to ink their Entry Level Contracts (ELC) until they are ready to turn pro. That leaves Matthews and #5 overall choice Olli Juolevi as the only players in the top-10 realistically expected to sign their first pro contracts that have not already done so.
Kevin McGran writes about the impasse with Matthews here.
Lou Lamoriello is a savvy, veteran GM who usually closes deals on his terms and we already know he isn’t particularly keen on including performance bonuses in rookie contracts. However in this instance, he may have to give ground. Matthews was the consensus #1 overall draft choice in June and each of last year’s top-two selections, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, received the maximum bonus value permitted under the CBA ($2.85MM on top of the $925K in base salary).
As McGran discusses, the implications of Toronto sticking to their guns may be felt far beyond this single negotiation. Veteran players, both who currently suit up for the Leafs and future free agent targets, may not think too highly of the organization trying to squeeze a few measly bucks from a young player widely-hailed as the future of the franchise..
Additionally, as we’ve seen in Colorado with Tyson Barrie and Ryan O’Reilly, this type of contentious negotiation now can potentially lead to bigger problems later. Should Matthews fulfill his promise as an elite, two-way #1 center, extending him upon the completion of his entry level contract might prove to be far more difficult should Toronto continue to hold firm on bonus demands.
Granted, there is still plenty of time for an agreement to be reached (roughly two months) but this should have been a relatively straight-forward negotiation. The second overall pick, Patrik Laine, signed for $3.575MM, assuming he meets his bonuses. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jesse Puljujarvi, chosen third and fourth overall, respectively, can each earn up to $3.425MM per season. It’s hard to imagine any team making a logical case for the #1 overall pick to not maximize his earning potential when each of the players selected after him have contracts in place that can pay out close to the maximum amount.
Like everyone else, I expect a deal to be wrapped up in plenty of time for Matthews to begin the season with the Leafs. However, I can understand why Toronto fans might be feeling a little uneasy with the overall tenor and pace of negotiations.