The star centre will be a restricted free agent this coming summer, and Matthews is a high enough calibre of player to make the threat of an offer sheet seem possible.
The Leafs were OK (if not completely comfortable) with letting restricted free agent William Nylander sit out without a contract until December this year. They eventually signed the Swedish winger minutes before the Dec. 1, 5 p.m., deadline that would have made him ineligible to play in 2018-19.
“When it comes to Auston Matthews, we’re looking at a different deadline, and that would be this coming July 1,” said Chris Johnston on Saturday’s Headlines on Hockey Night in Canada. “There is widespread feeling within the industry that Auston Matthews would be the rare player who would be targeted by an offer sheet.”
The last player to sign an offer sheet was Ryan O’Reilly, then property of Colorado, back in 2013. The Avalanche matched, though they traded the centre to Buffalo less than two years later. You have to go all the way back to Dustin Penner in 2007 to find a player who was signed to an offer sheet that wasn’t matched.
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas still has several months before Matthews can be poached by another club, though it doesn’t sound as if contract negotiations are currently underway between the 21-year-old’s camp and Toronto.
“There was some thought as well that Kyle Dubas will be anxious to work on a Matthews extension after that Nylander contract,” said Johnston. “Those talks did not pick up at all this week.”