The short-term idea fits because the Leafs have plenty of cap space this season, but it’s looking like they will run into trouble starting in the 2019-20 season when Matthews and Marner will be (presumably) on long-term deals.
Why would Tavares do that? Well, the one-time payday would make up for the bargain-basement contract he gave the New York Islanders (six years at an annual average value of $5.5 million).
Like Marian Hossa did with his one-year gamble with Detroit, Tavares would be gambling on himself to try to win a Cup in Toronto while deferring his long-term payday. The Leafs are deep and getting better. Tavares is a workhorse, an elite talent and Babcock is a fan.
It promises to be an odd summer, and potentially a season of distractions, if the Maple Leafs don’t sign Matthews and Marner to long-term extensions when their window opens July 1. The Leafs will certainly get a taste of what they’re in for. If there’s any sense that re-signing Matthews or Marner is going to be an issue, then Toronto would have Tavares in its back pocket. He too would be eligible for a long-term deal with the Leafs once he inks the short-term one. The Leafs would also be eligible to offer him eight years on a long-term deal; other teams could only offer seven.
Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris, has a history of having players hold out. It’s doubtful Matthews would sign before Marner signs. They’re friends. They’d probably want to do it together.
I’m betting neither signs until the completion of next season, betting on themselves to have big years followed by big paydays.
I’m all for star players getting the big bucks. I don’t think any star player should ever take a haircut or a loyalty discount. That’s bad management. You end up paying role players more than they’re worth. Those are bad, immovable contracts. For example, Connor McDavid took less money than he’s worth with Edmonton (eight years, $12.5 million AAV). If they’d paid him more and, say, three years from now they wanted to trade him, he’d be tradable, regardless his contract value. Not so much Milan Lucic, who got paid way more as a role player than he is worth ($6 million a year through 2022-23). Make the role players take the cut in pay to play alongside the big stars. Not the other way around.
That was a long way of saying I believe Matthews and Marner will and should ask for tons of money. They probably will. Matthews will probably end up with a higher dollar value than McDavid. Matthews’ camp will be arguing Matthews’ worth based on the percentage of the salary cap. If he gets the same percentage of the salary cap as McDavid (16.67 per cent) then he will get more money. The cap could well be at $85 million in a year’s time, meaning Matthews would be worth around $14 million.