Toronto Maple Leafs: Hardline Approach Comes Too Late

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 29: General manager Brad Treliving of the Toronto Maple Leafs works the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena on June 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 29: General manager Brad Treliving of the Toronto Maple Leafs works the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena on June 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov’s recent contract stalemate and arbitration hearing was the latest example of a new attitude from the Toronto Maple Leafs management.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking a hardline approach concerning player contracts.

This comes after word that negotiations with forty-goal winger William Nylander appear to be going nowhere.

New general manager Brad Treliving accepted the appointment knowing he had a lot of work to do this offseason. Much of the blame for his multitude of tasks rests at the hands of previous GM Kyle Dubas.

Dubas handed out deals to his star players that were player friendly and included no movement clauses, shorter-term along with high average annual values (AAV). It makes one think “modified no trade” and “no movement clause” are the trademarked vernacular of the Leafs.

At the time, an increase in NHL revenue seemed highly plausible because of new television deals, legalized gambling, and expansion fees.  This was immediately followed by a pandemic which shut down the league and cut into revenue, which then led to several years of the salary cap remaining static.

Despite all this, Dubas needed to show some restraint. Instead, he threw caution to the wind and conceded to the players and their agents.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Hardline Approach on Player Contracts is Too Late

Now, Treliving has arrived at a key point in franchise history. Most of the core players are due for extensions before hitting unrestricted free agency within the next year or two.

Nylander and stud centre Auston Matthews are due to be free agents in July of 2024. Mitch Marner and John Tavares are due to hit the open market during the summer of 2025. The first three should all be retained as long as their contract demands are reasonable.

If they are not kept, you risk losing them for nothing or making your team worse from a trade return where you likely get less than equal value.

The problem for new GM Treliving? Former GM Dubas let the horses out of the barn.

Nylander, Matthews, Tavares, and Marner conceded nothing to the organization in their prior deals. They should not be faulted for trying to get what they can. That is their right.

Dubas should have held firm in asking that they give something back to the organization. Anything. More term, a lower AAV, or not handing out no-movement clauses like they were candy on Halloween.

He locked up his young cornerstones to short-term deals but gave a seven-year deal to the grizzled veteran Tavares.

Tavares has delivered as advertised, but the last two years of the deal always carried the greatest risk. Those backend years have arrived without a championship. Tavares, rightly or wrongly, is now judged based on his $11 million AAV.

Now, Treliving is charged with trying to get the team’s salary cap in order. He is driving a hard bargain with Nylander, then he low-balled Samsonov with his arbitration offer.

The risk with these types of tactics is alienating your star players.

Nylander wants $10 million per year on a new contract. His advanced metrics would suggest he is worth it. Yet, he plays the wing (not a prominent position) and does little defensively to help out the team, though he gets some of the best results in the NHL, regardless.

Matthews, on the other hand, has the credentials to ask for more. He is a Top 5 player league-wide, plays the all-important centre position and his defensive play improves by the year.

The key for Treliving is to get the Matthews deal done first. He is your franchise player. Reward him accordingly.

Matthews has the opportunity to set a precedent for his teammates. He and the team need to find a deal that shows respect to him but also yields something to the organization in return.

Every Tom, Dick, or Harry (or Auston, William, and Mitch) should not be overpaid along with no movement clauses and terms that they want.

Next. The Leafs Top 10 Prospects. dark

Treliving and Toronto Maple Leafs management are now trying to hold their ground. The hard part will be “reining” in the horses that Dubas let run free.