The deal is worth $58.17 million, meaning Matthews will have an annual salary cap hit of $11.634 million beginning in 2019-20 and running through the 2023-24 campaign.
This news is a sigh of relief for the Maple Leafs fan base after it spent months collectively stressing over William Nylander’s contract holdout that ended on Dec. 1.
Matthews was eligible to sign an eight-year extension, however that would have complicated the team’s long-term salary cap outlook. This means Matthews can hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent by age 26.
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The 21-year-old American has been as good as advertised since entering the league three years ago as the top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. The left-shot sniper has 178 points in 182 career regular-season NHL games with Alex Ovechkin being the only player with a better goals per game rate since 2016-17.
The shorter deal is reminiscent of the five-year deal Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos signed after the expiration of his entry-level deal in 2011, and the six-year extension Matthews’s current teammate John Tavares inked with the New York Islanders that same year. Both players, for various reasons, forwent longer deals so they could hit free agency at a younger age.
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Tavares joined the Maple Leafs this past off-season when he signed a seven-year, $77-million contract in free agency. Nylander is locked up until 2024 at a cap hit slightly north of $6.9-million per season, while fellow forwards Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, defemcemen Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev, plus goaltender Frederik Andersen are currently the only Maple Leafs signed through at least 2020-21.
The team must also sign other notable pending restricted free agents Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson before next season. Marner currently leads the team in points with 63 in 52 games and is expected to garner a cap hit in the same range as Matthews and Tavares.
As reported over the weekend during the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada, Matthews’s agent, Judd Moldaver, flew from Los Angeles to Toronto to meet with the team and finalize a deal.
“There’s no secret there’s a cap. So, try to find something that works for both sides and obviously helps us out with that whole situation,” Matthews told reporters Saturday when asked about his contract situation and ongoing negotiations. “I’ll leave it to them and just continue to play hockey, and once it’s done, it’s done. That’ll be it.”
The fact it came to fruition prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline also helps general manager Kyle Dubas better prepare for what he hopes will be a lengthy playoff run.
“We’ve got a lot of great players on this team. A lot of young guys. A solid core. We want to be a great team and a team that makes the city proud — and accomplish our ultimate goal — for a long time,” Matthews added Saturday. “Keeping that core intact is a big part of that.”
Matthews and Dubas held a news conference Tuesday after the paperwork had been filed. The player explained the two sides discussed everything from a three-year bridge deal to a maximum eight-year extension before settling on five years.
“I don’t think there’s anything like playing in this city,” Matthews said. “From our fans, the support we get day in and day out, walking around the street getting recognized, I mean that’s not something I imagined when I was a kid growing up in Arizona.”
Currently, the only player slated to have a higher cap hit than Matthews next season is Connor McDavid with his $12.5-million average annual value. Tavares, Drew Doughty, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Carey Price, Anze Kopitar and Jack Eichel are the only other players whose AAV exceeds $10 million. Pending UFA Erik Karlsson is expected to join that list in the summer, while the 2019 RFA class includes Marner, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho and Brayden Point, all of whom are expected to earn monster cap hits.