Something that Oilers fans are going to have to get used to is Auston Matthews being compared to Connor McDavid. Currently, the fans base here in Edmonton doesn’t even seem to be okay with the two being mentioned in the same sentence so we’ve got a way to go before a comparison doesn’t result in 100,000 people screaming at once, “NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT THE F#$@ING LEAFS!”
Like it or not though, from where I sit the reality is simple, at some point in the not too distant future these two will be the best players in the NHL – McDavid is already there and Matthews, based on the start to the sophomore season, doesn’t look to be too far behind – which is going to make these discussions unavoidable. Gretzky/Lemieux. Crosby/Ovechkin. McDavid/Matthews. It’s going to happen and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.
Personally, I don’t have much of an issue with the coverage of the Leafs, even if at times it hurts my ears to listen, burns my eyes to see. And I know there are plenty of other Oilers fans who would like a little more coverage of our team on national broadcasts and a lot less coverage of theirs, but the Toronto market is massive, approximately five times the size of Edmonton so that coverage is just providing a supply to meet the demand. And when the NHL’s future second best player plays in that market the coverage is going to be seemingly endless.
Which brings me to Darren Dreger on TSN yesterday discussing whether or not Matthews will get paid more on his second contract than McDavid signed for this past summer. The instant reaction to this from many, including a few Leafs fans, was to roll their eyes and suggest that this was about nothing more than getting those sweet, sweet clicks. After all, Matthews likely won’t match McDavid’s on-ice numbers or his trophy case after two seasons, so there is little reason this think that his second contract should be worth more. All of that might be true and it still doesn’t mean that Matthews won’t, or shouldn’t, be paid more than McDavid.
In explaining his position Dreger pointed to a rising salary cap and how by taking an equal percentage of that cap Matthews would make more than McDavid. That’s a fairly simple concept and it does make some sense but it also misses a critical factor in this discussion, and that’s the fact that McDavid, despite making $12.5M next season and for the seven years that follow, is going to be underpaid. He probably would have been underpaid had he accepted a deal for the maximum allowable under the current CBA, $15M annually, but at $2.5M below the maximum, he is absolutely underpaid.
So, much like Crosby who has chosen to leave millions on the table in Pittsburgh, McDavid’s contract isn’t a good comparable for Matthews because he chose to take less than he’s worth. Connor McDavid gave the Oilers a gift of $20M spread out over eight seasons, which he was absolutely within his rights to do, but there is no reason to expect that Matthews, or anyone else for that matter, will be that generous. The question with Matthews second contract isn’t, is Matthews better than McDavid and therefore worth more money, it’s how close to a max contract is Matthews. And the answer to that question is close.
Coming off a 40-goal rookie season Matthews hasn’t missed a beat this season. Admittedly it is still very early, but if he continues to play like he has and breaks the 40-goal mark again, or perhaps ever 50, all before turning 21, is there really a reasonable argument to be made that he’s not worth something in the range of the maximum allowable under the CBA? The argument that is most often made against these massive deals is that you can’t build a competitive team because of them. Now I don’t actually believe that to be true, but even if it is, that’s an argument that the team can’t afford to do, not that the player isn’t worth it.
I said this before McDavid’s extension and I believe the same to be true with Matthews, whatever dollar amount he wants on that second contract is the right amount. That may well mean that he gets paid more than McDavid, but it doesn’t mean that he’ll be worth more. And if by squeezing the Leafs for every penny he happens to put the Leafs in slightly a tougher spot with respect to the salary cap, well, that certainly wouldn’t break my heart.