After all the hype, Matthews’ ELC saga was much ado about nothing

Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SPORTS

At just before 1:10 PM, I got a call from a familiar 778 number looking to have a chat with me. It was Allan Mitchell from TSN 1260 Edmonton (and our very own OilersNation). Normally, an on-air conversation with Allan in the middle of July would be to hype up our annual Five Hole For Food stop outside Stanley Milner Library, but with no tour this year, the topic was much different; Auston Matthews.

We spoke for about 17 minutes about how what we thought to be Lou Lamoriello’s hesitance to give out rookie bonuses was pretty crazy, something I originally stressed here a few weeks ago and reiterated this morning. We talked about other things too, but at the end, he asked me when we’d finally be able to post our “Matthews signs ELC” article. I laughed, said we haven’t written one yet, but that the Leafs would probably relent and sign him at the maximum salary at some point in the middle of August.

I hung up the phone, told the family my call was over and was no longer off limits, grabbed another glass of lemonade, sat back at the desk, and my phone buzzed.

Way to go, Jeff. Knocked it right out of the park. Not even off the phone for five minutes and the contract is official.

The reality, at least as far as what the media has been told, turned out to be so far from what had been speculated that we all look a little bit silly. “The agreement took place within, I would say, ten minutes of the first conversation that Pat Brisson and I had when we talked about Auston’s contract,” said Lou Lamoriello in a media phone call this afternoon. “Pat and I have been doing contracts for a number of years together, we’ve had a lot of different players that we’ve worked with. But this was never an issue at any point.”

All of that hype about reluctance and old-school rules, all for it to turn out that this was a ‘whenever we get around to it’ type of situation. As Lamoriello stressed a few moments later, the team had prioritized the operation of development camp, the signing of their restricted free agents, and preparation for their salary arbitration cases with Frank Corrado, Peter Holland, and Martin Marincin (which Lamoriello would not comment on). The situation ‘dragged on’, so to speak, not because the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, but because they felt it was so abundantly obvious what was at stake.

Matthews shared the sentiment. “I was never worried about it,” said the rookie forward. “There was no timetable on getting the deal done. I was very excited to get to training camp and get a little taste of what it’s like to be a part of the organization. It was an unbelievable time.”

There were two things that Lamoriello said that were particularly interesting to me, and they were both in response to the same core question.

“I think that, when Mike, Brendan, and I got together, we said that we would not be operating the New Jersey way, we wouldn’t be operating the Detroit way, we’d be operating the Toronto way. 

There are always reasons for what you do. It’s not to throw anybody off, it’s not to make anybody feel uncomfortable, it’s just the way we will operate. And sometimes there will be questions why, but there’s no deceit involved, there’s no trying to pull a fast one.”

It’s a really interesting line, that I think encapsulates both the process we believed to be unfolding, and the state of mind being given to the offseason on the whole.

Any form of “outsider”; be it a fan, be it a reporter, be it an employee in a much different part of the office, plays at a disadvantage when it comes to speculation. If you’re what we label an “insider”, you can get snippets of information that may or may not put you at a theoretical edge in your thought process, but the name of the speculatory game involves making the most out of the information you think that you know.

But sometimes, you get a situation like this, where a city that hasn’t had to deal with a first overall pick in 30 something years knows that the general manager has a prior record of being stingy with bonuses, and they see the golden boy wear the jersey without a contract attached to him. It’s the biggest market, so people on the outside take notice and start talking. It snowballs. Eventually, you get a situation like Kevin McGran’s piece yesterday, where even people from other parts of the league begin to buy into the tropes they know and have opinions to give.

It’s nobody’s fault, really. Everybody is looking for answers while the questions themselves are still forming. There’s an illusion of understanding that gets you to a conclusion, and each day that passes by leads to another round of chatter. The Leafs weren’t being deceptive by taking their time to get around to the signing, but it led to a snowballing of chatter. Could they have stopped it by signing him sooner? Sure. Could they slow the slight skepticism some carry towards the draft and their offseason moves by explaining their process? If it makes sense, probably.

But what do they have to gain from any of that? The Leafs clearly didn’t care about the speculation, the Matthews camp clearly didn’t and everyone’s moved on with their lives. Which brings us to the ‘Toronto way’ part of that statement.

Lamoriello went on to describe the Toronto way a bit, saying that it was up to every member of the organization to “perform to the best of our abilities collectively to have that Leaf have the result that we all want. To be a Leaf is to give up your own identity at times to have success.”

To some, that’s an implication that he gave up his own identity to sign this deal. That might have elements of truth, though he made sure to repeatedly stress that he felt that Auston was well worth the money. But to me, the bigger picture thought in that line is that the group has spent the last few weeks taking a couple slight ego-kickings, while seemingly not doing anything directly to appease others. While their personal identities have dropped a little bit from ‘too collectively smart to fail’, they’ve wasted no time trying to convince while chasing their own blueprint for success.

Is the full blueprint a correct one? We’ll have to see. But for now, Auston Matthews’ contract is sorted and turned out to be not even a fraction of the issue that that those on the outside looking in, thought it would be, and that’s the important thing for this organization.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Well said Jeff. Since the draft there has been far too much negativity in almost every article written.Though they won’t be perfect, I continue to have confidence in the team Shanahan assembled.

    The next big issue bar trade or signing will be coach Babcock missing the start of training camp… Let’s wait for it…

    • I wouldn’t quite call it negativity, per se. Skepticism is still the word I’m going with until the team does something very obviously awful, which I’m not betting on happening.

      But yeah; I think skepticism has its place so long as things look odd based on the information we have available, but it’s also possible that the information we don’t reveals a greater context.

      Of course, we can’t say that’s definitely the case, so we’ll still make our cases based on what we’ve got, and there will be moments like these where egg will be on our face. But if we waited until we had all the answers on every situation, nothing would ever get discussed and those answers would never come, so the show goes on, right or wrong, helpful or helpless. All parties will presumably keep doing their best with what they’ve got and hopefully it’s a better hockey place because of it.

  • CMpuck

    We’re back to the days you can’t criticize the Leafs without getting dog piled.

    Optimism is back and for a large portion of the Leafs Nation their mapping out parade routes when we should be looking for another big piece in the draft. Look at the Islanders that did a proper rebuild and their just emerging as a playoff team now as Tavares’ 2nd contract is winding down. Our forwards look great, goal might be great but we need that piece to compliment Rielly. Keep the on the prize and let’s finish a great rebuild.

    • Harte of a Lion

      I hope you don’t include me and my optimism in that Cattlecall CM? I think I’ve seen pretty much everything “Maple Leafs” I have been alive for 4 cups but only remember 67 clearly.

      I am not following blindly nor have I ever in the past however this time, with this group, feels different. Only time will tell.

    • Capt.Jay

      I believe we should anticipate at least 2 more drafts to get the depth we need and all positions filled.

      I agree the rebuild needs to continue and we have 3 second round picks next year as well.

  • Capt.Jay

    Great read Jeff. Happy this part is over, and I agree… we’re still learning the “new” Leafs way. It’s hard to break old habbits (as a fan)… especially with this frickin’ team.

    Unlike CM I think the Leafs are in great shape.. relatively speaking ofcourse. Still need some young talent on the back end – but we’re on the right track. That’s a very strange / unnerving thing to say as a lifelong Leaf fan… but it’s finally true. Truthfully.

    It will take a while to get used to….

  • Capt.Jay

    The rebuild has slowed down now that we were snubbed by Stamkos but it still continues. I have total faith in the management and am very happy that Matthews is now in the fold.

  • CMpuck

    If I were to guess, I think the management wanted to teach young Matthews a lesson.

    “Look, we’re gonna delay your signing a bit. We want you to pay attention to how the media start to speculate to see what kind of stuff comes out here.”

    If this were the lesson, I think it’s a great one.

  • CMpuck

    The heart of the matter in Toronto is how mainstream media portrays events (and the deterioration of media standards in general). Kevin McGran wrote an article high on hypotheticals as a representative of a major newspaper. To the casual reader and fan, that’s “news”. Even though he uses words like “it’s believed” and “might” (to which Mr. McGran would argue he was being forthright and transparent in the veracity of his article), it leads the readers down a path that actually had no basis in truth – as we found out.

    It’s fine for the blogosphere to have such pieces (I disagreed with Jeffler’s sentiments but didn’t begrudge his right to express his opinion), but a major newspaper should stick to reporting of facts. Citing “an executive with a rival club” (Nonis?) who can’t possibly be involved with negotiations should smell bad to the editor that allowed McGran’s piece to be published in the first place.

    The best part? Read McGran’s follow up after Auston signed:
    (Almost like there’s an axe to grind somewhere?)

  • CMpuck

    I wonder if Lou did this on purpose. The way they have been preaching about protecting players and making it a safe place to play, I would not doubt it if they saw an opportunity to make the media look silly. Reading McGran’s article after the fact, you realize how silly this really does make him look. I know it’s his job, but man was he off by a country mile. No journalist wants to look that silly, and I would anticipate that McGran will think twice about the next article he writes and maybe get an extra source or a more reliable one or write the article with a more speculating overtone instead of making it feel like rock solid fact. Lou’s comment about getting it done in 10 minutes just seems too much like he’s rubbing it in on purpose…otherwise why even mention that? I think real Leaf’s fans are starting to notice that the media hasn’t had a clue about anything the Leaf’s have done this offseason. Wasn’t a whisper about martin signing or Polak. Russell was rumoured to have turned down a contract, which turns out was never even offered to him and now this Matthews contract business. I think Leaf’s management is trying to discredit the media in an effort to give fans the practice at seeing through speculation that has no basis so that the entire organization becomes less polluted by negativity from outside. I always appreciate The Leafs Nation articles because they always clarify when things are speculation and then open up for discussion on the topic…McGran’s article on the other hand comes across as if Matthews has this huge head and he will not sign for anything less than max bonuses and Lamiorello is the most stubborn GM in history and will not give in to little punks who go against his team philosophy. McGran should feel foolish.