Source: Mark Blinch/National Hockey League/Getty Images
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas passed another important test on Tuesday re-signing their 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews to a contract extension of five years worth roughly 58 million. The first year GM has been quite busy for the past 7 months. First, he signed hometown boy John Tavares last July and then had a long contract dispute to settle with William Nylander. With Matthews, Nylander, and Tavares locked up for the long term, Dubas now will have to turn to Mitch Marner. Marner has had a great season and is on pace to beat all of his career highs. Right now Marner sits just outside of the top 10 in scoring and is 9th in assists with 42.
Nylander, Matthews, and Tavares will combine for over 29 million dollars of the Leafs payroll. Next year the cap will jump from 80 to 83 million. The Leafs right now will have about 4 million of cap space, and as it stands, gives Dubas no money to make another deal. The cap will be tight for Toronto and it's not going to make Dubas' job any easier. Marner should be getting double-digit money just like Tavares and Matthews. He's one of the best playmakers already in the league and has been one of the best Leafs players this season bar none. So should Marner, Matthews, and Nylander be getting paid an extreme amount at this stage in their hockey careers?
Isn't it crazy that the Leafs are already in this predicament so soon? Remember when Toews and Kane were the upstart stars of the Chicago Blackhawks in the late '00s. In late 2009 both Kane and Toews were getting the same deal for five years with a little over 31 million. That's just above 6 million a season. By this point Kane was averaging close to a point a game and Toews was the captain with respectable numbers, notching 139 points in 166 games. Not bad at all. What hurt the Blackhawks was Keith getting a whopping 13-year deal at 72 million. But combined all three contracts and it adds up close to 21 million. It is a lot but compared to the projected salary Marner will be getting and Matthews contract for next season, both of their contracts will be around what the 2009 Blackhawks trio were making. How does someone who just came out of their rookie contracts and are already making superstar money with over 10 million dollars? Don't get me wrong Matthews and Marner are great players but the amount of money they are making seems a little absurd so early in their careers. Even Connor McDavid making over 13 million has in some ways handcuffed the Oilers even though Chiarelli was dishing out money like it was candy on Halloween.
There needs to be some middle ground when it comes to contracts. Even if Toronto low balled Matthews don't you think a team would try and give him a 10 to 11 million dollar offer sheet? Damn, right they will. Not to just try and put Toronto deeper in cap issues but also knowing the market value Matthews is worth. Marner isn't signed yet and Toronto is in a very tight spot. Either Toronto or someone else will pay him a huge amount. The issue is going to be player contracts. You shouldn't be making superstar money at the age of 20 or 22. There needs to be a system in play for that not to happen. My idea is if an RFA player is getting re-signed, he shouldn't be making more than 7 million. If a player wins the Hart, Art Ross, Ted Lindsay award, Rocket Richard, Norris, Vezina or the Conn Smythe, then the player can be eligible to make more money in their contracts. At Least with McDavid, he's won a Hart Trophy and Art Ross so early in his career and has been the exception in this situation. If you're voted as an all-star in all three years of your rookie contract you are also eligible to make more than the maximum 7 million.
Dropping the UFA age to 25 will get players a good chance to make some money while still having years of service in the league. A Lot of players hit their strides during their mid twenties as they mature. Seeing the wave of other young stars cash in will become a bigger issue with teams and the salary cap down the road. The league needs to take a look at how GM's are handling they're young stars.
Other teams have taken the right approach and looking at Nathan MacKinnon's contract I believe Matthews and Marner should be making roughly the same. MacKinnon is making 6.3 million and he's one of the best players in the league at the age of 23. So when his contract is up in 5 years at the age of 28 he'll be making the biggest money of his career. That's where players should making the big bucks not making insane amounts of money in your first four-five season in your career.
The salary cap going up has caused this money splurging too. The cap has gone up over 20 million if you account next year's salary cap raise since the Blackhawks trio signed those contracts in 2009. For the most part, it's been going up almost every year since the league instituted it at the beginning of the 2005-06 season. With a potential lockout in the near future, it could have an effect on how the NHL manages the increase in the salary cap. With the league and players association taking large amounts out of players salaries, and GM's making dumb decisions with these crazy contracts to young players (See Edmonton). A pay raise system can help GM's not give crazy amounts of money to young players who shouldn't be getting paid while not winning anything.