More and more NHL players want to continue or end their careers by playing where they grew up. John Tavares did it. So did Pat Maroon. So, why not one of the biggest stars of the league, Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews?
Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews May Go Home
This past season, Matthews signed a 5-year, $58 million contract extension with the Leafs, with an annual average salary of $11.634 million. In 2019-20, Matthews will earn a base salary of $700,000 and a signing bonus of $15 million, while carrying a cap hit of $11.634 million.
While that contract is lucrative and historic, it may be difficult for any other team to match or exceed. Since Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona he certainly enjoys being home when the team plays there. Unfortunately, that’s only once a season. In those contests, Matthews has one goal and one assist in three games. Two of the three games were sellouts, with a reported crowd of 17,125.
Needless to say, the fans of hockey in Arizona would like nothing less than to see a homegrown product display his skills for the team he grew up watching.
When he is home to play against Arizona, he enjoys seeing his family and of course eating his mother’s home cooking. He also grew up watching former Arizona Coyotes players like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk. It’s what started him getting interested in playing professional hockey.
Will Auston Matthews Join Other Players and Play at Home?
It could happen, and even Brian Burke, the former President and general manager of the Leafs, feels that Matthews may want to leave after his five-year contract expires.
Certainly, that is his opinion and he has a right to voice it. It does not mean that he has any inside information that Matthews has this grand plan to leave Toronto in five years. Yet, the idea is intriguing to think about how it would be if Auston Matthews played in Arizona.
Who Knows What The Future Holds
One of the largest attractions, as Burke mentioned, is the tax ramifications and cost of living in Arizona compared to Toronto. Matthews likes to practice in the Valley over the summer and has been seen doing so this pre-season. Remember, he gets those home-cooked meals and he already knows how great the weather is in the Phoenix area.
Let’s face it, five years is a long time. The Maple Leafs could win a Stanley Cup or more over that period of time… if they can get by the tough Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. The Leafs are loaded but because they have such talented stars on their team their salary cap has been a thorn in their side.
Right now, they are struggling (to put it mildly) attempting to sign Mitch Marner, who wants a contract similar to that of Matthews or Tavares. That would mean the team would have three players exceeding a combined $33 million on their payroll. That amounts to 41.3 percent of the entire team’s cap space. That can become more than challenging for any general manager to swallow.
IF (small word, big meaning) Matthews decides he doesn’t want to play in Toronto anymore, whether that is when his contract expires or earlier, it will be his decision. He does hold a non-movement clause in the last year (2023-24) of his contract.
Let’s face it, taxes, and money does come into a decision for any player to move on to another team. What level of importance that has for Matthews is not known. When you speak of finances, even if he wanted to come home to Arizona, could the Coyotes afford him? Will they even have a new arena by then?
There’s No Place Like Home
The team does have a new owner in billionaire Alex Meruelo, who has made a bold statement that he will do all he can to bring a Stanley Cup to Arizona. One important ingredient in that endeavor is having a franchise player like Matthews.
Matthews’ mom, Ema, who is from Hermosillo, Mexico, and his father, Brian, made considerable sacrifices to help their son in his chosen career.
Ema worked two jobs to help pay the hockey fees for his early teams. It wasn’t easy getting ice time for a child growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ema even moved to Switzerland in 2015 to live with Auston while he played a season in a league there before the draft. She cooked some of his favorite meals there, such as tortilla soup. His eldest sister, Alex, joined them on a break from college to help Auston keep up with his online studies.
If nothing else, the joy of playing in front of his family, who have sacrificed so much to help him with his NHL career, has to be a motivating influence to draw him home.
Speculation or Reality
So, when one evaluates the possibility of Auston Matthews in an Arizona Coyotes jersey, it must be said that it may never happen. Yet, stranger things have transpired. Many New York Islanders fans NEVER thought that Tavares would leave, but he did.
While numerous professional athletes want nothing more than to perform in front of their hometown fans, it hardly ever happens. Perhaps that will change in five years. Maybe Auston Matthews will come home.
You never know.