Don’t Fret Over Matthews Contract

TORONTO (July 15) — In professional sport, as elsewhere in commerce, meaningful negotiation requires perseverance. Under the current Toronto Maple Leafs administration, that may skew more decidedly.

No one involved, however, in the Auston Matthews entry–level talks are astonished, or overly concerned, about an early stalemate. After the most hectic month of the year, Pat Brisson, agent for the National Hockey League’s first–overall draft pick, is enjoying some much–deserved down time this week with his family. But, an agent (much like a hockey reporter) is never truly on holiday in any part of the 12–month calendar. So, you can be sure that communication lines with Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello remain open. You can also count on Brisson having fully anticipated the chore of grappling for contract terms with Lamoriello — the NHL’s longest–serving GM and a man rather entrenched in principle.

Among his tenets is to try and exclude performance bonuses in entry–level negotiation.

Though No. 1–draft choices in the post–2005 lockout era (beginning with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby) have routinely been awarded the maximum bonus–package allowable under the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Lamoriello is steadfast in his conviction. A prime example, as cited earlier this month by Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, was the non–bonus arrangement signed with New Jersey in 2011 by No. 4–overall pick Adam Larsson (traded to Edmonton for Taylor Hall on June 29). “I am not a believer in the rookie bonuses in the CBA — the A, B’s and C’s as they’re called,” Lamoriello told the Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “Yet, everyone in the league drafted in the top areas seems to get them. Nobody [with the Devils] has gotten them. The reason is because every [drafted] player in our locker–room has bought into the philosophy and nobody worries about individual things. Only the commitment toward the team matters.”

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AUSTON MATTHEWS’ LOS ANGELES–BASED AGENT, PAT BRISSON.

Lamoriello’s ideology has frayed the nerves of Leaf zealots — some of whom actually fear that Matthews will refuse to sign and re–enter the draft in 2018 (Toronto would get a compensatory, second–round pick). These people, in my view, are straying too close to the edge. It is impossible to envision Leafs president Brendan Shanahan allowing for such a blunder. Shanahan will, of course, provide his veteran GM a decent strand of rope in any negotiation, but not enough rope to “hang” the franchise. Nor will Brisson backpedal significantly on behalf of his prized client. As such, the Matthews entry–level bartering could extend through more of the summer. Ultimately, however, it will get done before training camp. The Leafs have far–too much invested in Matthews, on and off the ice, for his contract to become an overriding issue.

Adding to the strain of Leaf rooters is that four of NHL’s top–six–drafted players from Buffalo have already inked their entry–level deals — including No. 2 Patrik Laine of Winnipeg; No. 3 Pierre–Luc Dubois of Columbus; No. 4 Jesse Puljijarvi of Edmonton and No. 6 Matthew Tkachuk of Calgary. Only Matthews and No. 5 Olli Juolevi of Vancouver have yet to sign. Last year’s first pick, Connor McDavid, agreed to his maximum–bonus contract with the Oilers on July 3; No. 2 Jack Eichel (Buffalo) had done likewise on July 1.

Though Brisson, to this point, has respected Lamoriello’s credo of no–comment negotiation, he is surely requesting the same package that Bobby and Darren Orr brokered for McDavid last summer — one that included a 10% signing bonus on the entry–level maximum salary of $925,000 along with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ performance clauses (goals, points, trophy nominations, etc.). McDavid’s deal max’d out at $3,775,000 in his rookie year. While Matthews isn’t expected to be quite a McDavid–caliber phenom, he and Brisson control at least as much negotiating clout with the Maple Leafs. Despite years of mediocrity, Toronto landed the No. 1 overall selection in the entry draft for the first time since 1985 (Wendel Clark).

So, again, this deal will eventually get done — and likely closer to Brisson’s template.

In fact, if Lamoriello somehow persuades Matthews’ agent to accept anything less than the maximum bonus package, he’ll have performed a miracle on behalf of the Blue and White.

KEON’S FOLLIES

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During the past month, I have somehow incurred an inflamed ligament in my right index–finger — the one I frequently use to deploy the shutter on my trusty NIKON camera. My doctor assured me it has nothing to do with photography and suggested the pervasive discomfort might be alleviated by two or three applications per day of the old dressing room staple, RUB–A535. As such, not only does my apartment now have the medicinal odor of a professional sports lair, but my hockey–savant brain couldn’t help flashing back to a pair of TV commercials in the early–70’s that featured then–Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon.

While endorsing the heating–rub cream, poor Davey was forced to pronounce “antiphlogistine (antee–flo–jisteen) liniment” on two or three occasions. No easy task, even for a professional announcer. Topical Antiphlogistic supposedly reduces swelling and inflammation (though my finger continues to throb). RUB–A535 was introduced in Canada back in 1919. It is virtually unknown outside of our country. The commercial producers must have burned an entire afternoon of takes getting Keon to enunciate the word. To this day, I remember that each attempt at “antiphlogistine” came out a wee–bit differently.

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Around the same time, Davey was commissioned to promote the apparent healing properties of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. As indicated above, a few tablespoons of the beloved broth — and a sandwich of choice — would contribute toward snuffing out the sniffles. Unfortunately, the Leafs captain had difficulty with the word “vegetable.” In the final commercial take, it repeatedly came out as “vegible”. Nonetheless, I remember suffering from a cold at 14 or 15 years of age and asking Mom to warm up a can of the soup. It provided no magical cure, but the heat enabled me to honk prolifically into a wad of Kleenex. Try it sometime. There’s nothing quite like bits of corn and carrot erupting from your nasal passage.

And, thanks for the tip, Davey.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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