TORONTO — “Find something that works.”
That was Auston Matthews’ response Saturday night when it was relayed to the superstar that his agent, Judd Moldaver, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly intensifying negotiations on a contract extension that would see him remain with the club for five or six more seasons.
And not the maximum eight-year pact that fellow franchise centres Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel inked coming out of their entry-level contracts.
During the second intermission of the Leafs’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and Elliotte Friedman reported that GM Kyle Dubas and Moldaver were looking toward a shorter-term deal for the superstar that would only eat up one or two years of unrestricted free agency and see Matthews heading toward the open market at age 26 or 27 — a chance to double-dip during his prime earning years.
“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. I’ll leave it to them and just continue to play hockey, and once it’s done, it’s done. That’ll be it,” said Matthews, after scoring in his third consecutive game.
Matthews is Priority No. 1 among a deep class of Leafs forwards — Mitchell Marner, Kapseri Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson — due to become restricted free agents on July 1. Despite battling through a shoulder injury, Matthews has racked up 23 goals and 46 points through the first 37 appearances of his platform campaign.
Were he to draw a line in the sand at eight years, his next extension could raise the financial bar set by fellow first-overall pick McDavid’s $100-million contract signed in 2017.
But Matthews said Saturday he doesn’t want to see the talent dispersed.
“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 said.
“Keeping that core intact is a big part of that.”
During Hockey Night in Canada, Johnston estimated that on a five-year deal Matthews’s cap hit would fall in the $11-million range, while a six-year term could have him flirting with $12 million annually.
Dubas would prefer to lock up Matthews and Marner ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline to provide the Leafs with a clearer salary-cap picture moving forward.
“Yes, it would be selfishly for me beneficial,” Dubas said. “But for the players I think they have to make sure they’re fully comfortable in going into any arrangement when they’re fully happy and ready to do so.”