Quick Shifts: Why Matthews will cut MacKinnon’s run very short

Shawn McKenzie and Luke Fox discuss the excitement in the air with Auston Matthews dominating in camp, Mitch Marner's offseason weight gain, and the Maple Leafs' blueline depth with Victor Mette and Jordie Benn now in the fold.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Apologies in advance: We’re still in preseason form.

1. Connor McDavid ($12.5 million AAV) will have held the title of most handsomely paid NHL player for five seasons, when Nathan MacKinnon’s new deal ($12.6 million AAV) knocks him off the peak next season.

MacKinnon’s reign on the top will be short like leprechauns.

Auston Matthews is destined to supplant him after just a one-year run. (And, while we’re playing this game, Connor McDavid should leapfrog Matthews after two seasons, by 2026-27.)

That Matthews will only be 26 when his third contract begins and that the timing of his next deal aligns nicely with the league’s projected spike in the salary cap ceiling (2024-25) suggests one whopper of a raise.

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has kept the deck clear for Matthews’ next deal. Only Morgan Rielly ($7.5 million cap hit) and Calle Järnkrok ($2.1 million) are under contract beyond 2024-25.

Money will not be an issue.

The great question will be how Matthews and agent Judd Moldaver attack negotiations in terms of, well, term. The Hart, Lindsay and Rocket champ went against grain in pushing for a five-year pact emerging out of his entry-level contract, and stars like Matthew Tkachuk took note.

Will Matthews go for the security of the eight-year maximum? Or will the NBA fan weave one more UFA date in his prime?

“I’ve loved my time here,” Matthews told reporters this week. “I really love playing in the city of Toronto. I consider it home now.”

The 60-goal man scored but once through the Maple Leafs’ first six games in 2021-22 as he worked his way back from wrist surgery.

No chance that happens this October.

Matthews is buzzing at Leafs camp, leaving teammates in awe. Spectators believe he can set new career highs right before hitting the negotiation table.

“This guy is one special player. It’s God’s gift, I guess,” new guy Jordie Benn said Friday. He shook his head. “It’s incredible to watch him every day.”

2. Is it unusual for a cash-flush organization — the same one that doled out millions for Mike Babcock to not coach the team — to not at least give Dubas a short-term extension and save the GM from “lame duck” status?

Yes, it is.

Heck, the Dallas Stars went as brief as one year on Jim Nill’s security cushion.

But as consistent as the Maple Leafs’ regular seasons have been, the optics of rewarding four straight one-and-done postseasons under Dubas would’ve landed awkwardly.

(Remember: Head coach Sheldon Keefe was given an extension following the Montreal series debacle in 2021, and the Leafs only reluctantly made it public.)

I believe Dubas when he says he’s comfortable as an impending UFA, and there is no doubt he’ll have offers elsewhere if the core he’s stood by all these off-seasons can’t stand up and deliver.

“We are an organization that preaches accountability. In my position, I don’t view myself as any different. In fact, I think I have to be held the most accountable,” Dubas told reporters this week.

“I fully expect to be judged on the full body of my work over the five-year term of my contract. I have zero issue with being evaluated over the entire body of work here.”

3. Jack Hughes is the clubhouse leader for Best Response to a Reporter’s Question.

The New Jersey Devils star was asked during the Players Media Tour if he would be as supportive of a playoff run by brother Quinn in Vancouver as Brady Tkachuk was of brother Matthew’s in Calgary.

“I don’t know,” Jack replied. “I don’t think you’d see me with eight beers in my pockets walking up the stairs. I might have one in front of me up in the (private) box. But I won’t be with the Canucks faithful, that’s for sure.”

4. With Zdeno Chara and Ryan Getzlaf retiring, and Joe Thornton, Brian Boyle, and Zac Rinaldo still unsigned as free agents, the Benn brothers have been crossing names off their list.

By their count, Jamie and Jordie represent two of the NHL’s nine remaining grandfathered players still participating without a visor. (We’ve got Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Martin, Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian, and Ryan Reaves as fellow survivors. Wayne Simmonds switched to a shield.)

“As soon as I was able to take it off, it came off, and I have no intention of putting it back on,” Jordie said, flexing his unimpaired vision at Maple Leafs camp.

“It’s funny seeing some of these young guys come in, and they look at me like I got something wrong, because I don’t have a visor on. But in a couple of years, I don’t think there’ll be too many guys without one anymore.”

Jamie, 33, and Jordie, 35, waged a debate: Who will be the Craig MacTavish of the visor-free set?

“I said my brother,” Jordie says, “and then we kind of agreed that it might be [the 31-year-old] O’Reilly. But we’ll see.”

5. You can picture the side of the Milk® carton in your mind’s eye…

MISSING: Backlash over the Maple Leafs adding ads to their sweaters.

Not many appear to be crying over the Milk patch spilled onto the Original Six club’s jerseys.

Seven years ago, I threw out a poll asking readers of this space how they felt about the NHL renting space on sweaters. A resounding 94 per cent of fans answered no, they don’t want to see it.

This week, I asked followers their opinion of the Maple Leafs’ new stake with milk.

The naysayers shrunk to 28 percent, while 72 percent either see the benefits or are indifferent.

“I like that the natural ‘Milk’ logo blends with the Leafs colour scheme perfectly,” one fan opined. “It’ll be forgotten by December.”

You won’t hear much resistance from the players either.

Jordie Benn, an old-school type who’s skated 595 games in ad-free NHL sweaters, shrugs off the forced flair added to his getup.

“I don’t care, to be honest with you. It’s kinda cool,” Benn says.

“I like milk. Now it’s on my jersey, I guess.”

(Insert shrug emoji here.)

6. During the lockout of 2012 and the summer of 2013 — mere weeks before and after his Norris Trophy–winning campaign — I had two opportunities to sit down and chat with P.K. Subban.

In light of the defenceman’s retirement and natural shift to the television studio, I dug through the crates and reread those interviews. A couple insightful comments stuck out.

On realizing he could use his hockey talents to make a difference elsewhere:

“I saw the way people responded to my success on the ice. Obviously, people were very connected to me. People were interested in P.K. the person as well as P.K. the hockey player. Through my success on the ice, I was able to channel that into helping other people. The biggest thing I realized is, through hockey I won’t find the full fulfillment in life. It might be through something else. Hockey is just a part of my life; it’s just a stage I’m going through. And when I’m done with hockey, there will be another stage.”

On what it feels like playing for the Montreal Canadiens:

“I see greatness in that organization every day when I go to the rink. I see opportunity. I see an opportunity to win, to bring a championship back to that team. That city is so hungry for another Stanley Cup. And when I look around the dressing room, I see a number of guys that can do it, that want to do it. And I think that my influence on that team can bring a Stanley Cup back to that city.

“Some guys get it early in their careers, some guys get it late in their careers, but I’m going to get it at some point. And I want to do it in that city because that’s my favourite team. I grew up watching them. It’s a personal thing. When I step on the ice, it’s a feeling.

“There have been times when I’ve been playing games and there’s tears almost coming out of my eyes because I want to win so bad there. It’s such an emotional city to play in, and I’m an emotional player, so I thrive off that. That’s why it’s so easy for me to go play 150 per cent every night. That’s why I get the response I do from that fan base — they feel that passion.”

7. June 6, 2019.

TD Garden is shaking. Deafening. And the ref hasn’t so much as dropped the puck yet.

The very sight of Chara in uniform, standing for the national anthem, ready to battle with a freshly broken jaw and rigged-up face shield has the barn rocking.

Of all the great Chara moments and wisdom shared, nothing compares to the chills of seeing the Boston Bruins captain’s nerve to participate in Game 5 of that Stanley Cup final.

So sore was the defenceman’s face, he had to handwrite his responses to us reporters after the morning skate.

“It sucks for him to have a broken jaw, but knowing him, he’ll be out there if he can,” Tom Brady told folks over at the New England Patriots training camp.

“He’s been a great kind of role model for people, very tough, very disciplined, very dedicated guy. One of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life, and just happy to see that team be in the position they’re in.”

The term warrior gets tossed around too freely in our sport, but it applies to the guy hanging them up at age 45.

“He’s willing to play with one leg, one arm. It doesn’t matter. He’s out there working as hard as he can and sacrificing his body because he knows, at the end of the day, you win — it’s worth everything you go through,” Brad Marchand said that day.

“Not everyone has that. You can’t teach that; you can’t push that on people. It’s either in you or it’s not. He’s able to play through pain, a lot more pain than most people. Probably anyone in this league. It’s incredible to see. I know I couldn’t do what he does.”

8. Appropriate for Keith Yandle to announce his retirement on Spittin’ Chiclets.

Yandle leaves the NHL as the reigning ironman (until Oct. 25) and the quickest wit in the league.

The defenceman said he is weighing his options — get involved in a front office possibly? — but it would be a shame if he didn’t join a broadcast team.

Smart, insightful and funny, the guy is a natural. No sonk.

9. We’ll let the investigators do the investigating.

And while we believe reporters have every right to ask questions, we also believe players have every right to “no comment” their answer.

That said, Batherson’s meeting with the media Thursday left an icky feeling.

“I’ve been cooperating with the ongoing investigations,” Batherson told reporters at Senators training camp. “Out of respect for the person involved, I’m not going to be making a comment on it now or in the future.”

Two follow-up questions resulted more “no comments” and a request by pr to switch topics.

Batherson was then asked by TSN’s Claire Hanna for his thoughts on the state of hockey culture.

“I’m living the dream. I can’t complain,” he replied. “We’ve got a great dressing room in there. I’m having a blast every day. So, can’t complain about it at all.”

10. Post Malone has been rocking the local sports team’s jersey at every stop during his current North American tour.

So when the pop star went down with three cracked ribs at his Enterprise Center stop in St. Louis, he was sporting the Blue Note.

After temporarily going off the arena floor for repairs, he grinded out the rest of the show.

Sources say he’s better now.

11. Hockey player house-swap stories don’t get old.

Remember when Tyson Barrie and Nazem Kadri temporarily traded addresses after being traded for one another?

Well, Johnny Gaudreau — the Columbus Blue Jackets’ free agency prize — purchased the home of Oliver Bjorkstrand, the very forward whose salary was dumped to Seattle in order to make room for Gaudreau’s hefty new contract.

(Sidenote: The Kraken are jacked about scooping Bjorkstrand for just a third- and fourth-round pick. They feel they got a steal, and we tend to agree.)

12. Darryl Sutter tells you what he thinks about Matthew Tkachuk without telling you what he thinks about Matthew Tkachuk:

Calgary visits Florida on Nov. 19. Circle the date.

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