NHL Wins and Sins: Auston Matthews' extension, Mitch Marner drama, Carter Hart's rise and pathetic Ducks
What's right and wrong in the NHL this week
It's time for our weekly installment highlighting what's right and what's wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there's also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.
With that in mind, let's hash it out together ... right here ... every single Wednesday.
Right: Auston Matthews' bank account
This column was on a bye last week so we didn't really get to discuss the Maple Leafs getting some much-needed defensive help in a trade for Jake Muzzin. It's old news by now but I'll just say it was a pretty good deal for both sides, but obviously the Leafs come away as the more immediate winners -- especially with Muzzin playing pretty damn well for them already.
However, the big news surrounding the Leafs this week is Auston Matthews' big-money extension. Matthews signed a five-year deal worth $58.17 million ($11.634 million AAV) that will prevent the sort of dramatic holdout that the Maple Leafs encountered with William Nylander this season. That deal will make Matthews the second-highest paid player in the league next year (in terms of AAV) behind only Connor McDavid.
Leafs fans may have been hoping for a lower AAV or more years, and that's understandable. But signing Matthews to five years (as opposed to the max eight-year deal that many wanted) may have been a necessary sacrifice, as the lower term brings down the AAV and allows Toronto a better opportunity at keeping some other players that they still need to lock up ... most notably Mitch Marner, who is going to command big bucks as he approaches RFA status this offseason. (More on that later.)
At the end of the day, what's important is that the Leafs locked up their first "homegrown" generational player in decades for the next five seasons at a minimum, and it's hard to feel bad about that even if the AAV is a smidge higher than anticipated. Matthews is an incredible player and should be a driving force for the Leafs' success for years to come. He's also an incredibly valuable player in that he's an elite center and an elite goal scoring talent, which both tend to come at a premium cost in today's NHL.
However, the trade-off with the shorter deal is that the Leafs have a shorter defined window of success, and they'll have to re-negotiate with Matthews earlier. Matthews will be due to hit unrestricted free agency prior to his age 27 season, which is a prime spot to cash in on a second huge deal. The question is whether that second deal will come from Toronto or someone else, perhaps in a John Tavares-like summer sweepstakes. Just saying.
But for now, Matthews isn't going anywhere and that's amazing news for the Leafs.
Wrong: Mitch Marner drama
Just hours after Matthews put pen to paper on his five-year extension, Mitch Marner's agent came out with some rather interesting comments about how Matthews' deal wasn't team-friendly and how the Leafs are trying to lowball Marner in the early stages of negotiation.
Everyone knew attention would shift to Marner after Matthews signed his deal, but this is probably quicker than anyone anticipated. I mean, the ink on Matthews' dotted line isn't even dry yet.
Of the Leafs' three biggest RFA concerns heading into this season -- William Nylander, Matthews and Marner -- Marner was always the one that seemed to have the most potential to get ugly. Nylander's "holdout" ultimately went down to the wire and there was plenty of will-they-or-wont-they drama in that saga, but the player and his camp remained pretty quiet throughout most of it, at least publicly.
Marner and his agent, however, seem to be willing to make more noise already and we've still got months to go in this thing. If you're the kind of hockey fan who hates how much coverage the Leafs get, you may want to hunker down and prepare to endure a very long and very dramatic Marner Watch period.
The winger's camp reportedly won't negotiate during the season in an effort to let him focus on hockey but, if his agent's comments didn't make it clear, it seems that the two sides aren't particularly close on a ballpark number at this point.
That disparity will surely breed plenty of takes, as will any comments produced by Marner, his camp or the team regarding the negotiation process. It'll be interesting to see where people land on a fair number for Marner, who has been tremendous for the Leafs this year and leads the team in points with 63 (20-43) through 52 games.
For what it's worth, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas doesn't seem overly concerned with the fact that Marner's camp is raising a bit of a stink already.
Dubas has done a great job running the ship in Toronto thus far so there's not a lot of reason to doubt that he'll be able to keep his word on that. But early indications suggest the ride to get to that point might be insufferable.
Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the same people who claimed that Marner is the best player in the league a few months ago suggest that he has to be the third-highest paid player on his own team or else he's a selfish villain. You know it's going to happen.
Right: Carter Hart
Remember earlier this year, like a few months ago, when the Flyers were struggling to the point where they fired their coach and their general manager? Well, Carter Hart has arrived and it turns out he might be Philly's savior after all.
After being called up to make his NHL debut in December, the 20-year-old goalie has almost single-handedly helped turn the Flyers' season around. Philadelphia had the league's worst record less than a month ago and now they're riding an eight-game win streak and sitting just seven points out of a playoff position.
That comes in large part because of Hart's outstanding play, with the highly touted prospect posting a .925 save-percentage through his first 16 games started. Over the course of his last seven starts -- all wins, by the way -- he's been stopping pucks at a .934 clip. He appears to be the real deal, and he arrived not a second too soon.
If he continues playing this well (or at least even close to it) for the remainder of the season, he has to get significant awards consideration. He's already playing himself into a Calder conversation that many (including myself) thought was over halfway through the year thanks to Elias Pettersson in Vancouver. There's a good chance Pettersson still wins the award thanks to the fact he's been playing all year, but Hart is at least making it a conversation.
Even if he doesn't come away with any hardware and the Flyers don't end up sneaking into the postseason, there's still plenty of reason for Flyers fans to be excited about Hart and what he can bring to the club for years to come. This is a team that has been desperately looking for a steady goalie for years, and it has to come as a huge relief that the hype surrounding Hart seems to be justified.
Wrong: Anaheim Ducks
Remember earlier this year, like a few months ago, when the Ducks were an absolute mess and John Gibson was somehow holding them together and keeping them in a playoff spot? Well, the Ducks are still an absolute mess and Gibson is no longer doing that.
Things are very bad in Anaheim these days. Like, really, really bad. The Ducks have lost 17 of their last 19 games, including their last five, and are steadily sinking to the bottom of the league's standings. I'm going to repeat that one more time -- the Ducks have lost 17 (SEVENTEEN) of their last 19 (NINETEEN). Holy crap.
Over the course of those last five games, they've been outscored 6-27. They've got the league's worst offense, the league's worst goal differential and not a lot of hope that things are going to get better without Gibson playing out of his mind between the pipes.
Lately, it hasn't even looked they've been trying. Apparently, that's something that's been addressed both by the coaching staff and by the senior leadership group in the room -- a senior leadership group that is getting less and less effective, seemingly both in the room and on the ice.
And, yes, this a Ducks team that has been hit pretty hard by injuries this year, but this latest stretch of play has been totally inexcusable. It's been pathetic. Keep in mind that about a month ago, GM Bob Murray came out and delivered a vote of confidence for coach Randy Carlyle, saying his job was safe.
But here's the thing: If you're forced to come out and say that your coach's job is safe, and then your coach does almost nothing but lose games -- and lose games in incredibly embarrassing fashion -- in the following weeks, your coach's job should probably not be safe.
In fact, it's almost mind-numbingly insane that Carlyle still has a job at this point. Honestly, it should be a fireable offense that Murray hasn't fired Carlyle already. But considering the general manager just signed a two-year extension in December, it seems fair to guess that he's not going anywhere.
Then again, this year is pretty much a lost cause and keeping Carlyle behind the bench is likely the most effective tank tactic for Anaheim, so maybe Murray knows exactly what he's doing. They often say there's a thin line between insanity and genius.
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