For Auston Matthews, Leafs, July 1st will be a date of great importance

If the Maple Leafs hierarchy has a good idea before July 1 that Matthew’s desire will be to survive the final year of his contract and reach full free agency in the summer of 2024, the possibilities are those with the trade of a player of Matthews are excluded. The stature must be fully audited before July 1, 2023 (when a no-move clause in his current contract comes into effect).

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Auston Matthews only needed one game.

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Just one game in his National Hockey League career has shown he’s the type of player to franchise around, the type that doesn’t get promoted to the NHL every year.

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Matthews has not scored four goals in an NHL game since making his debut in Ottawa in October 2016 against the Senators. But not only has he consistently manned goal since then, but he’s also blossomed into a great two-way center, using that magical night in the nation’s capital as a springboard to NHL stardom.

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Matthews will turn 26 in September, not long after training camp has started. Despite everything he’s accomplished in the NHL — winning the Calder Trophy, scoring at least 40 goals in five of his seven seasons, and winning the 2021-22 Hart Trophy after a 60-goal season — his best is yet to come. We know for sure that his best in the Stanley Cup playoffs is yet to come.

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While Matthews hasn’t performed well in the postseason, he has 22 goals and 22 assists in 50 games while failing to lead the Leafs in depth.

This is not a pattern that will stay that way. Whether in Toronto or elsewhere, Matthews is a player who can not only help guide a team through a successful postseason, but culminate it in winning the trophy.

The timeline to get something done in Toronto, a contract extension that would start in the 2024-25 season, is pretty straightforward.

Once July 1 arrives – when Matthews can sign a contract extension – he will be in firm control of his future as the final year of his five-year contract begins. With that final year comes a no-move clause.

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If the new general manager and the rest of the Leafs hierarchy (e.g., President Brendan Shanahan) come up with a good idea before July 1, Matthew’s desire will be to see through the final year of his contract and into unrestricted free time in the summer Switching Hands In 2024, the opportunities presented by trading a player of Matthews’ stature must be fully explored ahead of Canada Day.

When it comes to trading Matthews, as painful as it may be to see the 2016 No. 1 draft pick in another NHL sweater, consider that the return would be nothing short of a substantial package. That’s true if the Leafs take that path before July 1. After that day, with Matthews having more say on the matter and perhaps clarifying that there would only be a handful of teams he would accept a trade to, the Leafs will find that is himself in a corner, where returns may not be as generous.

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Another option in the summer would be to keep working on a contract extension until a new deal comes through. But the longer next season drags on, the more it could become a distraction for the team as a whole. We don’t think it would affect Matthews’ game.

The speculation will continue, and let’s keep in mind that as of this writing, it’s just speculation about Matthews’ future now that Kyle Dubas is no longer the Leafs’ general manager.

And there’s something else: We don’t know who the new GM is or what his plan for Matthews will be.

What we can do now is what Matthews said last Monday before the Leafs went their separate ways in the summer.

“My intention is to be here,” Matthews said. “I think I’ve said that before about how much I enjoy playing here and what it means to me.”

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Matthews was asked about the importance of getting a new contract before the start of next season.

“I think it’s important and that when the time comes, it will work out,” Matthews said. “As far as everything else goes, it’s a real honor (to play in Toronto). The work we are doing to continue to strive for this end result is extremely motivating.”

Matthews wasn’t as committed when asked if he’d feel the same if Dubas wasn’t the GM. But the first conversation the new GM should have with any player is with Matthews, and if No. 34 sees a right way forward with the GM’s vision, Dubas’ sacking won’t matter.

Anyway, does it really matter who the GM is? Will that really be a factor in Matthews’ decision? The player is a little freer in thinking.

No wonder Shanahan wants to hire an experienced GM, and the sooner the better.

It will be of paramount importance to catch up with Judd Moldaver, Matthews’ agent and close friend.


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