LEAFS NOTES: The Coyotes’ failed arena deal should put an end to the Matthews rumors

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The good citizens of Tempe, Arizona, may have severed the last tie with Auston Matthews and his home state as the final year of his contract with the Maple Leafs approaches.

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Regardless, Matthews has never even hinted that he’s keen to return there in 2024, or that earlier this week he stressed his intention to remain in Toronto long-term. The public perception never seems to wane that his heart truly lies in Scottsdale, where he learned the game, has family and could take the place of his childhood idol, Shane Doan, as the face of hockey in the area.

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All of this was reheated with another early Toronto playoff exit and calls for Matthews and the Core Four to break up. His next deal will see him get a sizable $11.6 million raise, and barring nothing else, the Coyotes will have plenty of leeway and prospects next summer — barring their address changing.

After voters Tuesday night rejected what Tempe Mayor Corey Woods called “the best sports deal in Arizona history,” the team’s future is in serious doubt.

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A proposed $2.1 billion arena and entertainment district would have guaranteed at least a decent home for the club, which had to be housed at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena on the Arizona State University campus last season, its third venue in less than 30 years .

“We’re going to explore with the Coyotes what options there might be going forward,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has come under attack from fans, particularly in potential expansion markets, for continually supporting the Coyotes with their problems on the ice and sparse presence.

So there is at least another year at the university and maybe a move to a new city. Such an unknown would turn off any potential UFA player, let alone Matthews, who already has the highest profile, an all-star craving a Stanley Cup in his prime. That doesn’t mean Matthews won’t leave or be replaced at some point. Chicago is the new rumor, but don’t light any more candles for him in Arizona.

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The Leafs’ Toronto-born roster could be thinned out over the summer as space for players is evaluated.

Scarborough forwards Wayne Simmonds and Michael Bunting are among the ten outstanding UFAs, as is Ryan O’Reilly, who was born in southwestern Ontario but has family and a home here.

Simmonds, who has played very little this season, declined to speak to the media earlier this week, while O’Reilly would like to stay but can’t ignore offers beyond what the struggling Leafs could offer in July. That leaves Bunting, who has played extensively with mega-millionaires Matthews and Mitch Marner, little more than the league minimum. He’s in line for a raise, but will the Leafs live up to his price?

“That’s the unfortunate part of the business,” Bunting said. “I will leave the matter to my agent and stand ready to make a decision when the time comes.

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“But when I came back to Toronto, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to pull the jersey over my head.”

While his heart ruled that head all too often in the heat of the moment and he would sometimes overplay his sympathy card to draw minor penalties, he put some bite into a squad many consider too soft.

“I’m just proud, a very emotional guy, a team-first guy,” Bunting said. “I went out every night, worked hard, showed passion, tried to help this team win, turned my back on my teammates when I needed to and tried to leave everything on the ice whenever I could entered.”

“It’s been special every day, a great couple of years and I definitely didn’t take it for granted.”


Noel Acciari still led the NHL in playoff hits Wednesday with 78, a stat workers Leaf fans will appreciate after two physical series against the Lightning and Panthers. Acciari, also a crowd favorite in Boston when things got rough with Toronto in the spring, is also on the UFA list but is quite open to staying.

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“Everyone here has been so great to me and my family,” said the Rhode Island forward. “When you play in Canada you want to be a Leaf and it was very special to be traded here and to experience all that.

“The fans made me feel good. You don’t always have to score goals, but to have a blocked shot, make a shot… you always want to be popular with the team and their fans and they made it possible for me to play as well as I could.

“I just want to get a contract (somewhere). We will have things regrouped and there will be a lot of talks going forward.”

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The NHL’s last four playoff appearances have included many Leafs encounters. In Vegas, Phil Kessel has two points in the four games he has played so far and is in pursuit of his third trophy since leaving Toronto. Defender Ben Hutton was also used in a couple of games.

The Dallas Stars have power forward Mason Marchment at the helm and three coaches, former Leafs draft pick Peter DeBoer as principal, Marlie/Leafs assistant Steve Spott, and goaltending coach Jeff Reese.

In Florida, former Toronto head coach Paul Maurice just beat the Leafs in the playoffs for the second time, with a couple of goals from discarded draft pick Carter Verhaeghe. For the Carolina Hurricanes, former Leafs No. 1 Frederik Andersen has played a big role in goal so far.



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