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Does Maple Leafs’ Matthews Believe Hockey Can Survive in Arizona?

Is a perfect storm arising where the Toronto Maple Leafs’ needs and the Arizona Coyotes’ abilities can align to solve both their problems?

The question that is the genesis of this post is whether the Arizona Coyotes’ rebuild might eventually have anything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy occurring; rather, I’m looking ahead to wonder if a perfect storm might be developing that lands Matthews back home in Phoenix and solves the Maple Leafs’ salary-cap issues without ruining their team.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Former Employee Claims: It’s Not Kyle Dubas’ Fault

A Recent Piece by Howard Berger Began This Thinking

In his September 3 “Between the Posts” post, Howard Berger quoted an unnamed former Maple Leafs’ worker who said: 

​​“It doesn’t matter if the Leafs miss the playoffs, get knocked out again in the first round or win the Stanley Cup, one of Matthews, Marner or Nylander will be traded — either at the regular–season deadline or next summer. Management knows and has constantly discussed this scenario, understanding there is no way for the team to maintain, or improve, its defense without such a move. That includes re–signing Morgan Rielly, or finding a replacement. After the coming season, it’s over for the Big 4 up front.”

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs NHL photo by Azadeh Kashani

The post went on to say that fans shouldn’t be surprised if the player moved were Matthews, especially if he gives any indication that he’s thinking of moving on after his contract ends. 

Honestly, I have no clue if the quote is accurate or not, but I have no reason to believe it isn’t. In fact, Berger’s columns are some I read regularly as part of my research for writing my posts. We don’t agree on everything, but I consider his insights. 

Bouncing Off This Information to What’s Happening in Arizona

Whether as a Maple Leafs’ fan you believe what Berger wrote in his post or not, there is some logical hockey sense present. Teams do make trades like the one noted – even for mega-stars like Matthews.

The best hockey player who ever laced on the skates – Wayne Gretzky – was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 and the Edmonton Oilers won a Stanley Cup in 1989-90. So, trading a player like Matthews isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

What makes it even more interesting is the Arizona connection. Few NHL players have come out of the desert, but Matthews is one of them. He grew up in the Phoenix area and it’s still home. It would be no surprise if he one day moved back.

Right now as I write this post, the Arizona Coyotes are in full rebuild mode. Just yesterday they traded center Christian Dvorak to the Montreal Canadiens for draft picks. All of this was part of the little dance between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Canadiens over Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s offer sheet, where partners changed more quickly than a Texas-style square dance.

The Coyotes Are Stockpiling Draft Choices: Could These One Day Be the Maple Leafs?

Here’s the question: Given that the Coyotes are stock-piling draft choices and Matthews could be a potential homegrown franchise savior, is there any possibility that the two things might build into a perfect storm where Matthews moves home to Phoenix and the Maple Leafs lose the heavy financial burden of his huge contract? 

What If Arizona wins the draft lottery this coming season? Then would events align better?

Maple Leafs Auston Matthews @reebeccathomson
Maple Leafs Auston Matthews photo by @reebeccathomson

You’ve got to think the Coyotes, who are trying to build a team AND save hockey in Arizona, would trade a load of its draft choices for the chance to sign Matthews. Just weeks ago, the Coyotes’ long-time arena didn’t renew its lease with the team. The immediate thought was that Phoenix would relocate and Arizona would possibly be out of the NHL. Given this situation, could Matthews be the difference between saving hockey in the desert or relocating the team? 

In fact, and I can’t say this is my own idea. In fact, I have to attribute it to a reader of another post I wrote earlier today. The reader (and I’m not sure he’d want his name noted, still I fully attribute the idea to his comment at the bottom of my post) noted that the Arizona franchise would invest its future to land Matthews. 

As he noted, it would be “a franchise-changing event for them. Arizona would be a good team in three to five years after that trade. It works for both the old and new NHL.” 

Why Wait For Matthews to Hit Free Agency?

It’s an interesting thought. Instead of the Coyotes waiting for Matthews to hit free agency, why not try to get him now and make him the cornerstone of the Coyotes’ rebuild? In fact, because Coyotes’ general manager Bill Armstrong is working to make this rebuild count, it means focusing on getting the best draft choices for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft it can get.

Yesterday’s trade of Dvorak works in two ways: first, he’s a good player who’s leaving and the team; and, second, the team gets another first-round choice (and a fourth rounder as well). At the end of the 2021-22 season, the Coyotes have every chance to be the NHL team with a poorest record. That record should leverage into a great draft pick. There’s a great chance that their draft choices will be worth a great deal, especially if it’s a deep draft. 

Related: Five Maple Leafs Who Are a Lock for Their Olympic Teams

What Happens Next?

Again, I admit that this post is pure speculation – although I do think it’s logical. If the Coyotes have the draft choices to trade for Matthews and a huge amount of salary-cap space that would allow them to extend Matthews past his current Maple Leafs’ contract, would they do it? I’m thinking they would. He’s a local young man who’s one of the best NHL players currently in the game. What a potential gold mine for the Coyotes as an organization!

I have a home in the Phoenix area, and I have been to full arenas when the Canadian teams come to town. Can you imagine a game between the Maple Leafs and the Coyotes with Matthews wearing the brick red, desert sand, and black of the Coyotes rather than the blue and white of the Maple Leafs? 

That makes me wonder if Matthews believes hockey can survive in Arizona.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. gfinale

    September 6, 2021 at 8:52 am

    Note that I would use any other word than “big” in conjunction with the core 4! They all play small. Matthews gave the indication he’d be moving on by insisting on a 5 year contract! Matthews’ buddy Marleau’s real home is next door in Cali 😉 I mean as well as Bieber and all that.

    • Old Prof

      September 6, 2021 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks for weighing in on this – two weeks ago, this wasn’t on my mind at all – now I’m thinking it’s possible. Odd how things just sort of show up.

    • Nick

      September 7, 2021 at 10:02 am

      The Coyotes need to figure out if they are playing in Phoenix , Tucson, or Prescott maybe this season and if you get can make a deal with ASU to play at there new arena that won’t be read for at least two years.. They also gave been courted by Houston.

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  4. Afo1961

    September 6, 2021 at 3:04 pm

    I believe this train of thought has complete logic. I have said it for two years now that AM will leave for the bright lights of LA, NY or back in Zona. I hate that it would be him leaving and we’d be left with MM. maybe we can package both?

    I would do everything possible to retain Matthews but by then he will have already made a boatload of cash and may want out of the fishbowl.

    The only thing that does not align is that Dubas has dismantled quite a bit of the team already stating dying loyalty to the big four. Now he will move one when he has little choice? Why not last year or this past summer when he could have rebalanced and had at least two – three more years with Matthews in the helm?

    Poor asset management

  5. Old Prof

    September 6, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    The connection in Arizona is what intrigues me – and the possibility of a win-win for both teams. Could it be?

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