- Sep 5, 2012
- Reaction score
Toronto Maple Leafs top draft pick Auston Matthews remained without a contract on Wednesday, the sticking point apparently over performance bonuses that GM Lou Lamoriello has historically avoided in his time as an NHL executive.
There is no reason to panic yet, with hockey still two months away.
But some find it a curious way to do to business for a team that has invested heavily in building through youth, and spent so much time selling the pain of losing to land a player of Matthews’ calibre.
“This one, to me, feels foolish,” an NHL source not involved in the talks told The Star. “I don’t know what Lou’s reward is if he wins for the amount of risk you take by going this direction.”
The Leafs not only risk alienating Matthews and his camp — souring future talks when Matthews will have more leverage — but they may be sending a negative message to players around the league about how the team treats stars, he said.
“I hope Lou’s not holding his breath,” said an executive with a rival club. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Lou, but I would not be wagering the house on (the Leafs) being able to hold that line.”
Lamoriello declined an interview request.
It is believed Matthews is asking for an entry-level contract consisting of $925,000 in annual base salary (that includes a $92,500 signing bonus) as well as $2.85 million in performance bonuses, the same terms Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, the top two picks a year ago, received in their first contracts.
Patrik Laine, the second overall pick this year, settled for slightly less ($925,000 and $2.6 million) this year with Winnipeg.
It’s believed the Leafs — and Lamoriello, specifically — are balking at $2 million in performance bonuses, basically a payday if Matthews, for example, ended up as a top-five finalist in rookie-of-the-year voting.
Lamoriello signed Mitch Marner last year to a $925,000 entry-level deal with an additional $850,000 in team-based performance bonuses, a deal that was already in the works before Lamoriello became Toronto’s general manager.
Otherwise, Lamoriello has been steadfast through the years in avoiding bonuses. In 2011, he signed defenceman Adam Larsson, a fourth overall pick, to a deal without bonuses.
The KHL is likely lurking — getting a young star of Matthews’ calibre would be a coup for the Russian-based league — but it would be a nuclear option for the Matthews camp, and is not deemed as leverage for a better NHL deal.
As a player drafted out of Europe — Matthews played in Switzerland last year — the Leafs essentially control Matthews’ NHL rights for the next four years. He is not eligible to re-enter the draft in two years time, an option open to some major junior players.
At the end of four years, the Matthews camp could argue he would be a “draft-related unrestricted free agent” by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. College player Jimmy Vesey used as similar four-year clause to avoid signing with the Nashville Predators. Vesey will be an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.
The Leafs, however, might argue Matthews is a “defected player,” thereby further retaining his rights.
Lou has never been one to give performance bonuses on ELC's due to the bonuses being about the name on the back rather than the name on the front. Lou has to learn to pick his battles though, he's risking the long term relationship between the Leafs and Matthews.