The Sports Report: New Toronto Maple Leafs centre may change the game

(Submitted by Noah Warren)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been an awful team for the past 20 years.

They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2003-04 season when they defeated the Ottawa Senators. The team was completely rebuilt in 2014, when they traded Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and others. They also cut salaries and finished last in 2015-16.

But after Auston Matthews became the first overall draft for the team in 2016, the Maple Leafs improved. He scored 74 goals in his first two seasons. He won Rookie of the Year and has emerged as one of the best players in hockey.

Entering his third season, he scored 10 goals in his first three games. He is looking for a big season but will be a restricted free agent by the end of it. The future success of the Toronto Maple Leafs is largely dependent on Matthews.

Matthews will be a restricted free agent until July 1, 2019. After that, he will be looking for a new contract. He has the potential to be one of the all-time greatest players by the end of his career.

Big money

Connor McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers signed a deal in 2016 for over $12 million a season. It was worth over 16 per cent of the annual salary cap at the time and now the salary cap has risen to $75 million. It should rise again before Matthews signs his new contract because it has risen over the last three seasons and he could make more money than McDavid.

He will likely earn approximately $13 million and become the highest paid player in the sport, taking to 20 per cent of the salary cap. He deserves the big money even though it’s concerning for the Maple Leafs’ finances.

Solid team players 

Mitch Marner, a right-winger for the Maple Leafs, led the team in points last season and will also be a restricted free agent beginning July 1, 2019. He has improved every season and if Matthews gets a big deal, he will as well. It’s been reported he will ask for between $8 to $10 million, but the latter is the more likely. He’s a great player and with these two centre pieces, the Maple Leafs will have a chance to take the Stanley Cup.

The team has started the new season on a hot stretch, but expectations must be tempered. They have two of the best centres in the National Hockey League and the best third-line centre in hockey, Nazem Kadri. Frederik Anderson is a solid net-minder and he will need to be great for them to go deep in the playoffs.

On the other hand, their defensive core is terrible and there are no decent players in the American Hockey League for them to bring up to play for them.

For the Maple Leafs to be a contender, they need another defenseman to help carry the load. They need their stars to continue playing and if Matthews continues to score he’ll get his pay and just might become one of the best players in the NHL.