TORONTO – The contract for a No. 1 overall pick is arguably the easiest for a NHL team to draw up: Start with three years at the maximum allowable salary, including a full signing bonus. Then you toss in maxed out “Schedule A” and “Schedule B” performance bonuses and sign on the dotted line.
There have been 11 first-overall selections since the entry-level system was introduced coming out of the 2004-05 lockout and they’ve all had this contract.
Auston Matthews is the 12th. We await the signing of his first NHL deal.
While there is absolutely no evidence the Toronto Maple Leafs are having difficulty with that process, the Matthews situation bears watching because general manager Lou Lamoriello is on record as being opposed to performance bonuses.
In fact, he refused to give them out while running the New Jersey Devils. He even got Adam Larsson, the No. 4 pick in 2011, to accept a contract without them – an extremely rare concession for someone selected so high.
Lamoriello was unusually candid while speaking with the Bergen Record after that deal was signed, applauding Larsson for not insisting on a contract that would reward him for scoring goals or receiving more ice time than his teammates.
“I am not one who is a believer in the rookie bonuses that (are) in the National Hockey League CBA – the A, Bs and Cs as they’re called,” Lamoriello told the Record’s Tom Gulitti. “Yet, everyone in the league that are drafted certainly in the top areas seem to get them. Nobody (with the Devils) has gotten them and our conversations have been that this would not be something that’s advantageous for us to do and the reason is because every player in our locker-room that we have drafted have bought into that philosophy and nobody worries about individual things and only the team and it’s a commitment that’s made.”
Despite those sentiments, it would rank as a massive surprise if Matthews arrived in Toronto with anything less than the maximum allowable in every category.
Teams often use their summer development camp as a time to finalize an entry-level contract with a top prospect, but that doesn’t appear likely with the Arizona-raised centre in town this week. I asked Lamoriello where things stood with his top prospect on Friday evening and he expressed no urgency with the process.
“I have no comments about anything that has to do with contracts,” said Lamoriello. “Until a contract is done, as far as what transpires from the period of time (until) the end, you know there’s no hurry for anything.”
The Matthews deal will be an important part of the Leafs salary cap picture for 2016-17. Last season, No. 1 pick Connor McDavid maxed out his bonuses as a rookie that produced better than a point per game, meaning he accounted for $3.775 million on the books for the Edmonton Oilers.
While that is the exception rather than the rule, the Leafs will still have to be mindful about leaving cap space for bonuses that could be earned by Matthews, William Nylander and possibly Mitch Marner. Otherwise, they risk accruing overages that would be carried into the following year.
The kind of deal Matthews will seek breaks down as follows:
• $925,000 in salary, with $92,500 of it paid in signing bonus;
• $850,000 in “Schedule A” bonuses, which are tied to individual achievements such as goals, points, time on ice, etc.;
• $2 million in “Schedule B” bonuses, which are given for league-wide excellence such as trophy nominations or finishing among the scoring leaders, making them extremely tough to hit.
Three high selections from the 2016 draft class have already signed entry-level contracts – Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine (the No. 2 pick got $2.65M in potential bonuses), Columbus’ Pierre-Luc Dubois (the No. 3 pick got $2.5M in bonuses) and Montreal’s Mikhail Sergachev (the No. 9 pick got $850,000 in bonuses) – but Lamoriello was correct when he said there was no rush with Matthews.
After all, he’s not due to report to Leafs training camp until early October after competing for Team North America in the World Cup. The player certainly doesn’t seem too concerned about his contractual status.
“You know what? I’m not sure,” Matthews said Monday when asked if there’s been negotiations. “Obviously, I just let my agents and the general manager and the people here handle it. When they say I’m ready to sign, I’ll sign.”
Despite his unique standing as only the second No. 1 pick in Leafs history, the 18-year-old is being treated no differently than any of the other 40 prospects at development camp this week.
He wore a stick-on name tag in the dressing room Monday and was assigned No. 63 – rather than his usual No. 34 – during a brief on-ice skating session. He’s also rooming with 2015 fifth-round pick Dmytro Timashov, as opposed to, say, a fellow first-rounder like Marner.
But Matthews was thrilled to get his first look at the team’s practice facility and throw on some Leafs gear, telling a huge gathering of reporters: “It’s nice to finally be here.”
“Like I’ve said before, this is the hockey mecca of the world,” he added. “With that, it comes a lot of media and pressure and stuff like that, but it’s definitely something you want to embrace.”