Kyle Dubas and Auston Matthews addressed the media after the announcement of a new five-year, $11.634 million AAV contract extension on Tuesday.
Full transcript below, edited and reordered for clarity.
Kyle Dubas: “We were able to lock him in and also to maintain some flexibility as we move ahead”
Dubas: Thanks everybody for coming. It is a very exciting day for our organization to have signed Auston to a five-year contract extension that will take us through to 2023-24. We are obviously very thankful to our organization, MLSE, Brendan Shanahan and our ownership group for giving us the opportunity to do this with Auston. And then most importantly we are thankful to Auston and his parents, Brian and Ema, for their commitment to the Toronto Maple Leafs and also to Judd Moldaver and Jeff Jackson from the Wasserman-Orr group. They have been excellent to work with throughout this whole process. It is a very exciting day for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
How important was this to get this done knowing what you’ve got ahead of you?
Dubas: I think they’re all important. We’ve got a number of very important players here to our program. Obviously, starting with John signing in the summer and even go back a few years to Morgan, Naz and trading for Freddy and Patrick Marleau signing here. There is John and William’s deal. They are all pieces of the puzzle that have to fit.
Obviously, I appreciate the work that Auston and his people have put into this. It has been a long process and I certainly understand when players don’t want to do deal with this during the season, but Judd and Jeff and Auston’s family were excellent. We really appreciate that. It is a big help to us just in terms of having some certainty as we navigate through here leading to the trade deadline. Their co-operation was something that gave us a certainty to make a move last week for Jake and having that idea from Judd of where we were going to land and sort of finalizing that — not until the last few hours, but it’s that type of commitment from them that has allowed us to move on as an organization. Obviously, we are thrilled to lock Auston in.
How does a five-year deal allow you to be more flexible than an eight-year deal?
Dubas: I just think the nature of way deals are in hockey, the younger players, if you want the longer-term, you are also taking up more of their prime, so the AAV rises. Certainly, that [eight years] was the intention from the beginning on Auston’s side. They were focused on that. Just as we kind of worked through it together, having more discussions, we are trying to balance keeping this together while also contending and not having to delete parts from it. We are very thankful that they were willing to move from their desired term. Everyone wants to be here for as long as possible, but we were able to find an AAV that works for everybody. We were able to lock him in and also to maintain some flexibility as we move ahead. That’s how it sort of all came to be.
You look at how salaries are changing for guys on second contracts, you’ve experienced that now with two successful negotiations. How much more of a challenge is it to build a team that has a long span of contention when this is kind of the norm for second contracts now?
Dubas: We spent a lot of time talking about that. It is our job. As Auston touched on during his discussion, we are trying to build a team that can have sustained success, not just contend once. I think if you look, there is a litany of teams all across every professional sport that are very good teams for a long time but can’t push it across the finish line. I think a lot of that is luck related and luck based, and we want to give ourselves the maximum number of chances we can to make a real good go at it.
In saying that, keeping the young core of our team together and then building out a program where they want to stay here on their subsequent contracts falls on us and not on the players. It is up to us to explain it to them and be very clear in our communication with them as they come along. I think the issue we have here is one we are very lucky to have. It creates some headaches at times, but we do have a very talented young team. We would rather be trying to keep that together rather than where we were at the beginning just trying to build it up. At times, it can become a bit challenging, but we are fortunate to have the kind of people we have here who are willing to work and meet us halfway.
Taking these things into consideration, how do you expect things to unfold in Marner’s case?
Dubas: I think that has been a pretty clear one. We are respecting the wishes of Darren. If they were to change their stance on it, then we are open to that. For right now, we will respect their wishes and we will carry on with the season here.
What about the other guys like Kapanen and Johnsson?
Dubas: As of right now, those are, relatively, both rookies. They are both getting their feet wet in the league and developing well under Mike and his staff this year after graduating from the Marlies last year. We are just continuing to see them grow and mature. Obviously, we know that they need contracts as well, but we will continue to let the season play out and let that sample size grow and we will begin having discussions with their people probably after the trade deadline.
Do you think this new deal sets a precedent for the rest of the league?
Dubas: I don’t really worry about that. I worry about our team and what we are responsible for here. I think we are beholden to the Maple Leafs and I worry about what the people are thinking here and the people when I walk in the door at home. I don’t worry too much about the rest of the league. I am sure some people will like it and some people won’t. That is just the way it goes.
How do your expectations grow and evolve now for Auston Matthews?
Dubas: I think we make the investment in Auston because he’s shown such tremendous potential. He’s a center and he scores at an elite, elite rate that few have matched in their first three years in hockey. With him, we know what he is capable of and he is still only a very young man. With that, it means he has a lot of potential that we have to help him to reach. I think the contract signifies his talent level and ability and also, for us, what we owe him in terms of helping to continue to develop on and off the ice as a young person. He comes from a great family, so he has that instilled in him. He is easy to work with and wants to get better and is willing to do extra. For us, it’s just now continuing to push that along as he continues to grow and mature into his mid-20s and becomes one of the best players in the league.
Were there any serious attempts to sign Auston back last summer? Was this a process that really picked up once you had William’s situation settled?
Dubas: No, Judd has been great. We started talking in really early July, right as soon as we were really able to. These things are complicated. They are not as simple as people want them to be at times. Judd has been great in having continual dialogue and being willing to discuss different scenarios and really all across the board with different terms and numbers. It has been a good process with Judd. Very thorough. That has really been there. There hasn’t been any change since William signed. None at all.
When did it go from being an eight-year discussion to being five, six?
Dubas: I think throughout we have been trying to be flexible and trying to figure out what works for everybody. I couldn’t really pinpoint a specific time. Right off the opening, we started to discuss a number of different options that might be enticing to everybody. It just kind of grew into the five.
Does getting this done now in the season make your job easier in terms of negotiating with Marner once the season is over?
Dubas: I’m not sure about that. I think Mitch is a wonderful young player and we love having him. He is someone who loves hockey every day and he comes in with the same great energy and enthusiasm. That is his personal preference. There is going to be no pressure from us on that. For us, if they want to talk, we are here, but we are respecting their wishes and I expect everyone else would as well in terms of how they handle Mitch. When they are ready to sit down, we’ll talk. He is going to be a Toronto Maple Leaf for a long time regardless of how we have to come to that, so it is no issue at all.
Auston Matthews: “I don’t think there is anything like playing in this city”
Is it important to get this deal done now, sooner than later?
Matthews: I don’t know if it was important, but I think everything came together. For me, I guess you could always wait, but I had no problem signing during the season. I am obviously very proud to be a Maple Leaf today and for the foreseeable future.
How long were the talks going on for?
Matthews: I think they kind of heated up a bit the last two weeks. My agents, Kyle, and management I’m sure talked quite a bit and kind of finalized it today. It is definitely a pretty special day for myself and my family. I’m very excited.
What kind of thoughts go through your mind when you look at those numbers and actually sign?
Matthews: It is pretty special. You kind of think back a little bit and think back to when you were a kid and everything. For me, I am extremely proud and happy. I know that my family who is here is extremely proud of me as well. It is a special day. I love playing here. I love the city and my teammates, management, the whole staff top to bottom. For me, it is extremely special.
What do you enjoy most about being a Maple Leaf?
Matthews: I don’t think there is anything like playing in the city. From our fans, the support we get day in and day out, going around the street and getting recognized, it is not something I ever really imagined growing up as a kid in Arizona, to play in a market like this. It is definitely something that I don’t take for granted — or my family, and I don’t think anybody on the team takes it for granted to play in a special market like this. Obviously, we want to accomplish our ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup and make this city proud. We are working towards that every day.
McDavid and Eichel signed for eight years. How did you arrive at five?
Matthews: A lot of guys have done five years before. I think we understand the cap restraints that we have and that the league and every single team has. We kind of went through everything from three to eight and settled on five. I think both sides are obviously happy and happy to get this over with and move on. For myself, I am proud, and for my family, extremely excited.
With this five-year deal and the team that has been assembled now, do you feel the pressure from fans to win now and get to that ultimate goal?
Matthews: I think we will always feel the pressure from fans here. They want a championship team and we want to give it to them. This city deserves it. For us, I think we aren’t too caught in all of that. We take it day by day. Obviously, we have a special team with a lot of talented players. We were doing everything to get to that ultimate goal, to the top of the mountain. We work every day to accomplish that.
If someone told you when you were a teenager that after three NHL seasons, you would be making more money than Sidney Crosby, you would have thought what?
Matthews: I would have thought they were crazy. I think that is the way the market is. It moves. It was always a dream of mine to play in the NHL, but obviously, you get down to it and it’s a lot of money. It’s great. It is obviously an exciting day for myself. I am proud to wear the Maple Leaf every night. I want to make my family proud and the city of Toronto proud. I think everyone does on this hockey team as well.
How involved were you in this process and was any of it a distraction?
Matthews: No, it wasn’t a distraction. I would talk with my agents and my dad, who was also involved, every once in a while. I kind of left that to them. I had full faith and trust in Judd Moldaver and Jeff Jackson and the Wasserman-Orr team to let them do what they do. I let them speak with Kyle and management. When they came to me and said, “I think we have a deal done to move forward,” I was obviously happy with it. Here we are today.
What was the reaction you were getting on text messages from teammates and players across the league?
Matthews: Just a lot of congratulations from teammates, friends back home, family members, and guys around the league that I’ve played with before. It is obviously pretty nice to get that. All in all, it is a very exciting day for me.
Does it feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders and you can focus strictly on playing now at this point?
Matthews: It is nice to get it over with. It was never really, I don’t think, a weight on my shoulders. It was just something that was there and something that you guys like to talk to me about every couple of weeks or so. It was never something that bothered me too much. Whether it was now or after the season, or this previous summer, I knew it was going to get done regardless. Until then, you never really never know what to expect or what is going to happen. So here we are now.
What role did your family play in your decision making? What sort of conversations did you have?
Matthews: I mean, they play a huge role. I am very fortunate, obviously, to have them. What they do for me is incredible, and what they’ve done for me since I was a kid. They played a huge role, especially my dad in talking with Judd and Jeff every day and just getting a feel for it. They want what is best me for, as do Juff and Jeff. They played a significant part and I am very lucky to have them.
What do you think makes the core special enough that you guys can potentially accomplish that goal of winning the Cup?
Matthews: We’ve got so many special players. Like I said before, we want to build a championship team here in Toronto and make the city proud. That is what starts with all of us in the locker room. I want to be here for a long time and all of the guys here want to win and make the city proud and give them what they deserve, and that is the Stanley Cup.
You now have certainty with your salary for five years. Do you know for certain where you’re going to be as a player and what you want to be?
Matthews: Of course. I do. Individually, I hold myself to a higher standard than I think anybody else does. All of that stuff I kind of want to keep that stuff personal. In the end, though, you’re measured on championships and that is what I want to do here — help this team and be productive in any way I can to win a championship. That is the ultimate goal.
You’ve talked about hockey players and showing more personality and you wanting to bring out more personality. Does this give you freedom now to be more “you”?
Matthews: Regardless of if I’m making one dollar or $11 million, I am not going to change who I am and I’m going to be myself every day. To me, nothing really changes. I am going to be myself every day and have fun. I get to play hockey and do what I love. Now, I am fortunate to do it for a lot of money like I have for the past couple of years. I feel very fortunate and very lucky, especially to do it in a city like Toronto. It is something I never really imagined as a kid. It is very special. I feel extremely honoured.
What are you going to do to celebrate?
Matthews: Go to dinner with my family and spend some time with them. They came up this week and we are going on a long road trip here, so it’ll be nice to just kind of relax with them and probably talk about some of the good ol’ days when I was a little kid who was probably a big disturbance to them and now to sign this contract, is a very special day for all of us.