As they have for each game over the past month, the Toronto Maple Leafs will take to the ice tonight without injured centre Auston Matthews. The young superstar hasn’t seen any game action since February 22nd when he suffered a separated shoulder courtesy of New York Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck. Since then Matthews’ injury has progressed to the point where he’s a regular in Leafs practice, but still not quite ready for game action.
Matthews has already been ruled out for tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, making it the 20th game this season that he’ll miss due to injury. In his latest column for The Athletic, Leafs insider James Mirtle highlights Matthews’ injury and examines just how it could benefit the Leafs moving forward.
You see, by sitting out for such a long stretch, Matthews is unlikely to hit many of his performance bonuses this season, saving the Leafs potentially millions of dollars in cap space for 2018-19 and beyond.
According to a source with knowledge of what's in Matthews' contract, he is likely to miss out on the majority of the bonuses in his entry-level deal this season due to all of the injuries. While he will earn $850,000 in Schedule A bonuses, he will almost certainly miss his $2-million Schedule B bonus.
Matthews' contract has a section — standard among first-overall picks — which reads as follows:
Scoring Bonus (Goals, Assists, Points or Points per Game)Top 10 forward in NHL: $2,000,000
Had Matthews not missed 20 games and counting, he’d almost certainly be amongst the league’s top 10 scorers and have earned himself a cool $2,000,000 for his efforts. That cap ding would roll over to next season, further hampering the Leafs’ ability to re-sign pending free agents like James van Riemsdyk or Tyler Bozak.
“The injury probably cost him the $2-million, as he would have been top 10 in goals,” said Mirtle’s source. “Technically, he could still make it in points per game but highly unlikely.”
On top of Matthews’ $850,000 bonus for this season, the Leafs will also owe bonuses to Mitch Marner in the same amount and William Nylander in the amount of $637,500. All together these amount to a $2.34 million cap overage which will be applied to next season. That’s a pretty healthy chunk of change, but it could have very easily been $4.34 million had Matthews earned his big bonus. It’s very likely that this would have cost the Leafs any chance at re-signing JVR, for instance. In fact, that $4.34 million is higher than JVR’s current salary and nearly 75% of the $6 million salary that it’s believed he’ll command on the open market.
With just $2.34 million in bonuses being paid out this summer and with Joffrey Lupul’s $5.25 million coming off the books, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Leafs could bring JVR back, should they choose to do so. They could also use the money to pursue a top four defenceman, either on the free-agent market or via trade. Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev and his $4.45 million salary seems like a perfect fit.
Regardless of what the Leafs decide to do with their newfound cap space next season, there is still one way in which Matthews could mess it all up. He still has a $2 million performance bonus for winning a major award. While the Hart, Richard and Selke all seem like a long-shot, we’re willing to bet that Leafs fans would be happy with the team paying out a $2 million bonus for a Conn Smythe Trophy win. Yeah… pretty safe bet there.
Report: Leafs pump the brakes on Matthews’ return
Yesterday afternoon Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock deemed injured superstar Auston Matthews ready to return to action saying, “I think he’s playing right away.” Later in the afternoon Babcock had to walk back that statement and officially ruled Matthews out for this evening’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And according to a report from Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, the 20 year old Matthews is growing a little impatient sitting on the injured reserve. Directly from Fox’s report last night:
“Boring” is the adjective Matthews used to briskly sum up the past 26 days of his life, as he endures the third and longest break from action in this sophomore season.
Watch the 20-year-old’s mannerisms and listen to his answers Monday as he addressed local reporters after participating in a full-contact practice, then tell us this guy isn’t frustrated.
“I’m just trying to get back and play hockey,” says Matthews when asked when exactly he’ll return.
The Leafs have two HUGE tests coming up this week, first tonight against Tampa and then on Thursday against the Nashville Predators. Both the Lightning and the Preds lead their respective conferences, so the two games could act as an effective way for th eLeafs to currently gauge where they rank in the NHL’s hierarchy.
Knowing where you stand, your strengths and weaknesses, is important for a team headed down the stretch and into the playoffs. The only thing more important? Health. The Leafs are hoping for that to improve down the stretch, as well.
Leafs demote Sparks to Marlies
The Toronto Maple Leafs have officially loaned goaltender Garret Sparks to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Sparks was initially recalled following Wednesday’s shootout victory over the Dallas Stars in which starting goaltender Frederik Andersen left the game with an “upper body injury”. Today’s news seems to signal that after taking the last two games off, Andersen is ready to return to action.
Unfortunately for Sparks he did not see any playing time during his brief recall. The 24-year-old goaltender has been absolutely fantastic with the Marlies this season, posting a remarkable 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 35 games. Together with partner Calvin Pickard, the duo comprise perhaps the strongest goaltender tandem in the AHL.
Sparks has spent his entire professional career in the Leafs organization after having been drafted by the team in the 7th round (190th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He has a 6-9-1 NHL record to go along with his 3.03 GAA and .893 save percentage in 17 NHL starts, all from the 2015-16 season.