To no one’s surprise, first overall pick Auston Matthews officially signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday, ending any speculation that the two sides were at loggerheads over performance bonuses.
To hear Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello tell it, Auston Matthews was always going to get signed, always going to get the bonuses that were coming to him. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Yes, it took a little longer than usual, but an entry-level contract with Matthews was announced Tuesday, 27 days after he was selected first overall. There had been an enormous amount of consternation about whether or not the Leafs and Matthews were at loggerheads about entry-level bonus money. During his many days with the New Jersey Devils, Lamoriello had a policy of not giving them to anyone. He also had a policy of no beards for anyone in the organization and everyone in the office had to wear a tie even in the summer, but it looks like Lamoriello is changing with the times.
Because, to the surprise of no one, Matthews maxed out on all the bonuses commensurate with being the first overall pick. That means each of the next three seasons he’ll receive $835,000 in base salary to go with a $92,500 signing bonus. His contract also carries a performance bonus package of reasonably achievable bonuses maxing out at $850,000 and another level of much more difficult-to-achieve bonuses that max out at $2 million.
Lamoriello wondered what all the fuss was about when it came to striking a deal with Matthews, saying the framework of the deal was conceived within 10 minutes of negotiating with Matthews’ agent Pat Brisson. “This was never an issue at any point,” Lamoriello said. “Auston was No. 1 overall. The agreement he has with the Toronto Maple Leafs and his contract, he’s earned this. He deserves what he’s getting and there was never a question from us on this. Everyone was questioning a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons, but the comfortability end of it, both with the contract and with Auston is exceptional.”
In reality, there was never any question that this was going to get done because Matthews was never going to sign for a penny less than the maximum bonus structure and the Leafs could not afford the luxury of crossing contractual swords with the player they project as the cornerstone of their franchise. This was not an Eric Lindros situation, nor was it a Mike Modano imbroglio. Not even a Mario Lemieux, who you’ll recall took a while to come to terms with the Pittsburgh Penguins on his first contract.
Lamoriello had his policy with the Devils, but he never, ever had a player of Matthews’ ilk to sign and if he had, he’d probably have capitulated. Lamoriello is smart enough to realize the reality of the situation and what a disaster it would have been to hit a major bump in negotiations. If Lamoriello has established one thing, it’s that business will get done on his schedule, not anybody else’s. He is willing to bend on some things, but the last thing he’s going to do is respond to white noise.
“I guess the first question is, what was the rush?” Lamoriello said. “It’s only been a little over three weeks. We had a development camp to go through and we had other players we had to sign, we had arbitration situations, but we didn’t think it was a rush. We knew it was going to transpire.”
Then Lamoriello really got going. Perhaps he was preparing his prodigy player for things to come or trying to dampen the tide of the situation at The Center of the Hockey Universe™, but Lamoriello took a little umbrage over the minor uproar this caused. Things tend to get a little magnified in Toronto when it comes to anything related to the Leafs, something to which both Lamoriello and Matthews are going to have to adjust.
“I don’t like the thought process sometimes of, because something was done somewhere else, there are assumptions that are made and I think this is maybe a good time to bring this forward,” Lamoriello said. “When Mike (coach Babcock), Brendan (president Shanahan) and I got together, we said we would not be operating the New Jersey way or the Detroit way. We’d be doing it the Toronto way. And there are always reasons for what you do. It’s not to throw anybody off or to make anybody feel uncomfortable. Sometimes there will be questions why, but there’s no deceit involved, there’s not trying to pull a fast one. In this situation here, there was nothing unique about it.”
So again, nothing to see here. If there’s one thing Lamoriello does, it’s that he runs a buttoned-down operation. And Matthews has been well coached over the years not to say anything controversial, so those looking for bold statements from him will likely be disappointed. “For me, it was never an issue or concern,” Matthews said. “I knew it was going to get done. There was never any timetable to get a deal done.”
Under Lamoriello, the Leafs plan to be far more exciting and dynamic on the ice in the long-term future. But off it, they’re shooting for nothing but boredom, which after all those years of chaos would be a welcomed development for them.