New Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has already reached out to the agents for center Auston Matthews and winger Mitch Marner, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports (video link). He also notes that Toronto’s preference would be to get deals done with both players at the same time but McKenzie believes that the youngsters may prefer to hold off on signing an extension this offseason in favor of waiting until next summer when they are eligible for restricted free agency.
Both players are coming off of strong sophomore campaigns and if they play at that level or better in 2018-19, it stands to reason that their cases for a bigger payday will only be strengthened. There’s little reason to believe that one or both players will regress so betting on themselves certainly makes some sense. Of course, there is some risk here. A significant injury to either player would certainly negatively impact negotiations.
It’s also worth noting that the barometer for big contracts is shifting more towards the percentage of the salary cap over the actual AAV. The Upper Limit has only gone up since being instituted and will probably do so again next summer so if Marner and Matthews are targeting a specific percentage of the cap on their next deals, it should yield a higher amount by waiting.
McKenzie also wondered if Matthews, in particular, may prefer to not sign a max-term deal which is something that notable number one picks including Steven Stamkos and John Tavares have done in the past. Doing so would result in a lower cap hit on his next deal since fewer UFA-eligible years would be bought out but it would also give him the potential to hit the open market in the prime of his career. It’s safe to say that he’ll be keeping a close eye on Tavares in the next few weeks.
We haven’t seen too many prominent youngsters go this route lately as early extensions are becoming more and more prominent. Last summer, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel wasted little time signing a year earlier than they needed to and many expected that Toronto’s top duo would do the same this time around but that may be in question now. Even though those two may not sign right away, the other member of Toronto’s ‘big three’ up front (winger William Nylander) will need to get something done this offseason as he is eligible for restricted free agency next month.