1. Once every few weeks, one of us reporters who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs would pester Auston Matthews for an update or comment on his contract extension status, and he always took it in stride.
Sure, his answers stuck close to the cliché — focus on hockey, let my agent handle that — but he was always polite, calm and confident. Honest, but not overly so.
The money question, while probably a tad annoying, didn’t rattle him. He never looked nervous or ticked off.
It’s not farfetched to believe that Matthews’ willingness to wait, to be subjected to these occasional queries, bumped up his payday.
Judd Moldaver spearheaded negotiations on the Matthews extension, but Jeff Jackson of Wasserman/Orr rode shotgun.
Jackson brought over his experience working on the Connor McDavid deal. Matthews was fine with letting things play out seven months longer than McDavid was.
“[McDavid] didn’t want to go through a season where he was asked every day about his contract. It was different. You really can’t compare the two,” Jackson told Jeff Blair this week (listen below if, like me, you like to nerd out on this stuff). “That’s what he wanted to do, and that’s the course that we set with him.”
Granted, Matthews also had William Nylander and Mitch Marner and Kawhi Leonard to share the burden of the extension narrative in his city. McDavid had Leon Draisaitl.
Matthews preferred an eight-year deal (a concussion, a back ailment and two shoulder injuries might do that to a guy), but short of undervaluing himself, that would crumple Toronto’s blueprint for Cup contention.
So he took five.
The player’s patience and flexibility should make him extra millions in the long run. The cap could get bumped five more times when he revisits the negotiating table at age 26.
Make no mistake: Matthews did not take a “hometown” discount this time in signing off with the Maple Leafs to the tune of $11.634 million annually. But the location of his hometown will help him get a discount.
As an Arizona resident who flies back home during the off-season, Matthews benefits from having his income taxed at a lower rate (41.24 per cent) than if he were an Ontario resident (53.31 per cent) — a difference of approximately $1.4 million in the young star’s pocket for each of the five years his extension runs, according to the nifty NHL tax calculator developed by Gavin Hockey Wealth.
“The Canada-U.S. treaty provides that a signing bonus paid by a Canadian team to a U.S.-resident athlete is taxable in Canada at a rate that may not exceed 15 per cent,” Gavin tweeted. “However, the bonus is still reportable on the athlete’s U.S. tax return and would effectively be taxable to the athlete at his normal U.S. rates.”
2. Neck and neck with Alex Ovechkin as the best recent example that a franchise winger might just be worth every penny as a franchise centre, Patrick Kane has points in 13 consecutive games, leading the left-for-dead Blackhawks to the best active winning streak in the league (six wins).
“By no means are we counting the season out yet, but we definitely have a lot of work to do to put ourselves in a spot to make a run in the playoffs,” Kane said at the all-star break.
Chicago hasn’t lost since, and now it’s within two points of a wild card no one appears to want.
True, the ‘Hawks have plenty of teams to leapfrog, but we’re saying there’s a chance.
“If he keeps going, we’re gonna keep going,” Jonathan Toews told reporters. “Let’s put it that way.”
So much of Chicago’s miserable first 50 games could be chalked up to not getting a save. Even with the club’s improvement, it still ranks seventh-worst in save percentage (.896, 12 percentage points below the norm). San Jose is the only team in playoff position that’s been able to overcome a worse save rate.
Kane has a real shot at winning the Art Ross Trophy, again. (If he can pass McDavid and Nikita Kucherov, he’ll remain the only player other than McDavid to win the scoring race since the Oilers star entered the NHL.) He’s also a realist.
“It’s a tough league to be good for a long time, y’know? Especially with the salary cap,” Kane said.
“Your younger players get better, everyone wants raises, and it’s tough to keep teams together. We’ve seen that a few times with our team, where we’ve had to dismantle the team and make changes. It’s never fun to see, but that’s just the way it is with the league now.”
3. Wyatt Delage called it the best day of his life.
The 11-year-old Barrie, Ont., hockey player, who is fighting a battle with Stage 3 B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was surprised last Saturday with a video message from Sidney Crosby inviting him and the rest of his Barrie Colts AAA minor peewee teammates to watch that night’s Leafs-Penguins game in a suite.
Crosby spent time with Wyatt and his family post-game.
Wyatt’s Warriors, a crowdfunding campaign, has raised $28,500 since the child’s December diagnosis.
“This is the first time Wyatt’s been able to experience the support we’ve experienced,” Wyatt’s father, Martin, told the Barrie Advance.
“It’s unbelievable how much this has helped us and our family. It’s given us the ability to focus on our son and his recovery.”
11-year-old Wyatt is battling Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and his teammates are with him every step of the way.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 3, 2019
4. Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher says the next step in developing super sophomore Thomas Chabot is simple: Turn the creative 22-year-old into a top shutdown defenceman who goes head-to-head against the opposition’s top lines.
Chabot isn’t there yet, but his coach assures he’ll get there in time.
As a rookie, Chabot was eased into the NHL by getting 62 per cent of his starts in the offensive zone. Boucher has dropped that number to 53.5 per cent, with minimal effect on Chabot’s Corsi rating, and the push is on to mold Chabot into a trustworthy player at both ends.
“I certainly don’t think he’s going to be one of those offensive guys you gotta hide,” Boucher says.
What a treat this kid is to watch live. So for all the negativity swirling around the Sens, Ottawa should enjoy seeing firsthand the continued improvement of a stud blueliner.
“He makes some really good plays out there, some plays that you wouldn’t really expect from a guy as young as him,” says Matthews, 21. “I got to know him a bit during the all-star break and really liked him a lot. I like his game, and he’s a really good guy as well.”
I asked Chabot what owner Eugene Melnyk’s plan to spend near the cap in 2021 meant to him, as a player entering his prime then.
“We’re a young group of guys here. We want to build that together. We’ve got a lot of talented guys, whether it’s here or down in Belleville. We’ve got good prospects,” Chabot replied Wednesday night.
“We want to grow together as a group and one day hopefully get there.”
5. Boucher’s assessment of that other Ontario hockey team:
“They’re Stanley Cup contenders, for sure. I don’t think there’s any flaws in their lineup anywhere, to be honest with you. What they’ve done lately in going and getting [Jake] Muzzin is huge for them. People were maybe talking about weaknesses back there [on defence] — I don’t think anybody’s talking about that right now.
“You kind of have to play a perfect game to beat them. They’re hardworking. They’re a team that drives the net. Their top players go to the net and pay the price there. They’ve improved defensively. So, it’s as hard as it gets.”
Things are so sunny in Leafland right now, a scoring winger can walk around downtown in full uniform and scarf a hot dog guilt-free:
6. Line of the Week (and not for the first time) goes to Evgeny Kuznetsov:
7. The bunched-up West and surprise rebound from a couple of tumbling Eastern Conference clubs (Philadelphia and Carolina) have muddled the trade deadline market.
And yet, one of the greatest and most competitive goaltenders of all-time appears to be at peace with playing out his contract (which runs through 2020-21) on a mediocre team.
Before the King came to America, he had stuck with one Swedish franchise, Frolunda, for four years in the elite league, backstopping the club to two championships.
Fourteen seasons a Ranger, all signs point to Lundqvist eventually leaving the game as the most winningest goaltender to play his whole career with one franchise (Stanley Cup or bust).
“I take a lot of pride in being a New York Ranger and being a part of that organization,” Lundqvist said. “It means a lot to me to have this opportunity to play my entire career for one organization.”
His two daughters are now old enough to enjoy watching Dad at Madison Square Garden.
“They start to understand what you’re doing and why you’re gone so much. When you’re younger and you don’t have kids, you don’t realize how much you’re gone, how much you travel, how much you commit to this game,” Lundqvist said.
“When you do have kids and they start asking all the time why you’re leaving, why you’re gone, why you’re not home, then you start paying attention. Wow, I’ve really committed to playing this game.”
8. Because no one expected them to be this good and because Lou Lamoriello holds his cards so close to the vest, the Islanders are one of the more fascinating players entering the deadline.
The GM doesn’t have a 2019 third- or fourth-round pick to spend, so using up a first- or second-rounder to obtain a rental over the next couple weeks would mean having just one pick through four rounds. That’s a big gamble, so I don’t see it happening.
But! The Isles do have a litany of UFAs who will be asking for raises by July 1, and they won’t be able to keep them all: Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Valtteri Filppula, Luca Sbisa, Robin Lehner.
There’s an opportunity for Lamoriello to find a creative way of upgrading his top six and adding some scoring punch. Maintaining first seed in the Metro is key; the 2-3 matchup is always a killer.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised, but it’s maybe a little bit different from what people pegged us as,” says Mathew Barzal.
“I think we kind of like that. We weren’t pegged to do everything at the start of the year. So we had a lot of guys who wanted to prove something this year, a lot of guys getting a lot of opportunity, and we’re definitely making the most of it.”
So, does Lamoriello reward the group?
9. The Maple Leafs accomplished something brand new this week. They completed a 6-0 season series sweep of the California teams, outscoring L.A., Anaheim and San Jose head-to-head by a grand total of 27-10. (The Leafs’ only previous sweep of California was back in 2010-11, when they went 3-0-0.)
Oh, how the mighty are falling.
The Ducks, perennial contenders, went 0-for-Canada this week, routed 23-5 by Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Let’s pour one out for the newlyweds, shall we?
I like Randy Carlyle. I also think a run this miserable demands change.
“Sometimes there’s too many mistakes to correct them all,” Carlyle said in the middle of the most troublesome road trip since Vacation. “I think John Tortorella said it best. He said there were so many mistakes taking place on the ice that they were overwhelmed by all the things they needed to fix. So, you pick your poison. You pick one or two things and go with that.”
Carlyle spoke about how he’s needed to modify his communication strategy to the modern player due to a shift he noticed a decade ago, but this roster is too slow and the meetings aren’t getting through.
“Today’s player is more about why. They all want to know why. So if you’re not prepared to answer the question ‘Why?’ then you’re in big trouble. What we try to do is provide as much of the positives. Catch them doing something good. Catch the good things. Everyone knows coaches are going to harp on the mistakes that are made more than the positives made because we’re all in this to correct the mistakes,” Carlyle explained.
“The hierarchy of the hard coach and deal with the iron first, that’s gone. Gone by the wayside. It’s like parenting: How much more lax were you on your last child as opposed to your first child? You didn’t sweat the little things with the last child like you did the first child.”
10. I hadn’t seen AT&T’s clever commercials for its “Just OK” ad campaign until Carlyle was asked if he was getting royalties for them. The coach, who popularized the phrase in Toronto back in 2014, was able to chuckle about it.
“I’ve seen it used, and it makes me laugh,” Carlyle smiled. “I get no percentages.”
11. The morning after the Super Bowl, 39-year-old Patrick Marleau said he could draw inspiration from watching Tom Brady’s late-career accomplishments.
What does Mike Babcock appreciates about mastermind Bill Belichick’s approach?
“You’re either all-in or you’re in the way. It’s just simple. They just keep mowing them out, mowing them out. You do it right,” the Leafs coach said. “The other thing about it is the biggest leaders and your quarterback obviously set the tone there. It’s been fantastic to watch.
“In today’s world, to get people to sacrifice individual rights for team rights and do it right all the time has got to be a hard thing. That’s where key leadership is so important. That’s where a guy like John Tavares is so important to our franchise.”
The trick, Babcock believes, is to never quit studying. He cites Scotty Bowman, with whom he caught up during the Leafs’ recent trip to Detroit.
“He’s 85 years old; he’s sharp as a tack. There’s a guy who has embraced lifelong learning as much as anybody. I think all of us in every business, if we think we’ve got to the pinnacle, we’re not going to be working very long,” Babcock said.
“It’s real important to understand that you’ve got to get better. I think that’s also the fun is the journey of trying to expand, meet new people, figure things out, change, adapt, whatever you’re got to do.
12. Yes, Gritty crashed Stephen Colbert’s Super Bowl party.
His star is still soaring, folks. And we have all the time in the world for it.