Another domino — and the biggest one at that — has fallen in Toronto.
Auston Matthews has signed a five-year contract extension with the Maple Leafs worth $58.17 million. Ninety-three per cent of his newfound fortune will be paid out in signing bonuses.
WATCH: Auston Matthews on contract extension — Everything came together
The contract’s average annual value of $11.634 million will make the former first overall draft pick the highest paid player in Leafs history — and the second highest in the NHL behind only Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid — when the contract kicks in next season.
The deal, which keeps Matthews in Toronto until 2023-24, when he will be 26 years old, also ends the debate of another team signing the generational talent to an offer sheet this summer.
Through 38 games this season, the 2017 NHL Rookie of the Year and three-time all-star has 23 goals and 23 assists. Despite missing 14 games with a shoulder injury, the centre has the fourth most points on the team and second-highest goal total.
Last year, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said he “can and will” sign Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner — all exceptionally talented, impending restricted free agents at the time — to new contracts.
Nylander, 22, signed a new six-year contract in December that ended a two-month holdout. And now that Matthews is locked in for the next half-decade, the spotlight is shining on the 21-year-old Marner. But the team’s leading point getter doesn’t sound like he’s in any rush to get it done.
His agent, Darren Ferris, has said that they will wait until after this season to launch into serious contract talks with the Leafs. And now that the Marner camp knows what Matthews got — and, to a lesser extent, what Nylander received — they can draw out their battle plan.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Marner, who’s from Markham, Ont., asks for the same amount of money as Matthews, arguing that they’ve put up very similar point totals since entering the league together in 2016-17, even though Marner has played nearly 30 more games than his teammate. I see Team Marner starting at $11 million per season and Dubas countering with $9 million, and both sides finding some middle ground at $10 million.
Dubas: Long-term deal for Matthews gives team flexibility, balance
If negotiations break down at some point and July 1 comes and goes without a new deal, another NHL team might just toss an offer sheet Marner’s way. But he’d quickly become public enemy No. 1 if he signed one. Think about it: a Toronto kid stiffing his hometown team — which is on the cusp of great things — just for a fatter wallet? It wouldn’t be a good look.
For Maple Leafs’ management, however, that’s a discussion for another day. Right now, they’re celebrating the fact their No. 1 centre is locked up for the next six playoff runs.