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Big money for Auston Matthews

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

The biggest news story of the week in the NHL – and that’s not saying too much since it is August – was the contract extension for Auston Matthews with the Toronto Maple Leafs. On Wednesday afternoon, Matthews broke the story himself with a post to the app formerly known as Twitter. “I feel fortunate to continue this journey as a Maple Leaf in front of the best fans in hockey! I will do everything I can to help get us to the top of the mountain. GLG!” The Matthews post was followed by an announcement from the Leafs. The deal, which will kick in for the 2024-25 season, is a four-year contract worth $53 million and carrying an average annual value of $13.25 million. This is an enormous piece of business out of the way for GM Brad Treliving, and no doubt he is hoping that the salary cap will rise enough over the duration of that contract to make it manageable, and perhaps even a bargain eventually. With two years remaining on contracts for Mitch Marner and John Tavares, and just one year remaining on William Nylander’s current deal, Treliving has his work cut out for him. Willy can relax. He’s getting paid by someone, whether it’s the Leafs or another team of his choosing in free agency. Treliving needs to be a little less chill and find value for Nylander one way or another. An asset like Nylander cannot be allowed to walk to free agency. We can sit back with some popcorn and watch how the new guy in town works through a decision to keep the core four intact or maximize the trade value on one of them. In the meantime, Matthews is a case study in how to maximize your own value. By the time this contract is done, he will have made north of $122 million in Toronto. But the kicker is that he will be just 30 years old when his next contract ends, and no doubt someone will still sign him for a maximum value deal at that time. Or, if the elite goal scorer still hasn’t found playoff success in Toronto, he will have plenty of time to chase a Stanley Cup elsewhere. As August winds down, NHL teams are running out of time to tidy up their business in advance of training camps opening. On Saturday, Aug. 19, the Winnipeg Jets took care of another restricted free agent, locking down giant blue liner Logan Stanley to a one-year deal. Stanley will still be an RFA at the end of this contract and has another year to prove himself as a useful NHL defender. The Jets have just one RFA left to sign – AHL defenseman Declan Chisholm is still waiting on a contract. The Jets are not the only team coming in a little late with their RFA signings. There are some big names without contracts, including Trevor Zegras in Anaheim, Shane Pinto in Ottawa, Evan Bouchard in Edmonton, and Alexis Lafreniere in New York. The Ducks are retooling, and Zegras is a huge part of their future. The Senators hope to enter the playoff picture this season, and they’ll need Pinto in the line up to make that happen. The Oilers are in their contention window and Bouchard just had a breakout season – they have to find a way to move forward together. The only player in the group that has not developed as hoped is Lafreniere, but the Rangers know what a risk it would be to give up on him too early. The players know they have leverage, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the season approaching. The Montreal Canadiens received some good news this week. Reports broke that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has cleared defense prospect Logan Mailloux to play in the NHL. Mailloux was selected by the Canadiens with the 31st overall pick in the 2021 draft, a choice that was greeted by a mixture of shock and dismay. Just prior to the draft, Mailloux had removed himself from the draft after criminal involvement in Sweden, saying he didn’t deserve to be drafted and would use the time to work on himself. While playing in Sweden, he took pictures of a woman with whom he was engaged in a consensual sexual encounter, but who had not consented to being photographed. Mailloux then shared the photos with his teammates and was charged by Swedish authorities. The management duo of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton inherited this fine state when they were hired to replace Marc Bergevin, the GM that had drafted Mailloux. They put in place a plan to support Mailloux’s development, on and off the ice, and invested in a Respect and Consent Program. The program, which came with a $1 million investment, focuses on raising awareness about respect, consent and sexual cyberviolence. This week the Canadiens’ plan, and Mailloux’s progress, were enough to convince Bettman to clear the prospect for NHL play. Of course, Mailloux will also have to prove himself on the ice before he lands a roster spot in Montreal. Elsewhere in the NHL, this week Jonathan Bernier announced his retirement. The news did not come as a surprise as Bernier missed last season, and most of the 2021-22 season with a hip injury. Bernier was the 11th overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2006, but he never really lived up to that selection. Bernier was mostly a backup or tandem goaltender but was the starter for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their rebuild years, and posted his best statistics there.

Blue Jays Babble

The Toronto Blue Jays were in Cincinnati last weekend for a three-game series against the Reds. Friday night’s game was a pitching duel, and the Jays got the bad end of the stick in a 1-0 loss. They were able to redeem the weekend, nonetheless. On Saturday, it was a timely homerun from rookie Davis Schneider that gave the Jays a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth inning that turned out to be the winning run. Then on Sunday, everyone was hitting homeruns including Brandon Belt who hit two. Bo Bichette had a convincing return from injury, and Hyun-Jin Ryu nabbed another win in a 10-3 clobbering by the Jays. With a 69-56 record, the Jays finished the weekend holding third place in the American League East but just outside the wild card spot. The clock is ticking on this season. The Jays had Monday off before heading to Baltimore for an important three-game series against the division rival Baltimore Orioles. Toronto kicked off the series in the right way with a 6-3 win on Tuesday night, Aug. 22. Brandon Belt was the hero again with a 2-run homerun in the 10th inning. On Wednesday, the Jays took a beating. Kevin Gausman allowed just two runs in six innings pitched against his old team, but Trevor Richards got clobbered in the eighth inning and the Orioles scored five runs before he was pulled. The bats were impotent in a 7-0 loss. The Boys in Blue needed to win the rubber match on Thursday before heading home to welcome the Cleveland Guardians for a three-game weekend series.

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