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If Only the Maple Leafs Studs Would Choose the Red Pill

Are the Toronto Maple Leafs ? As their key players get richer, does the team slip away from winning the Stanley Cup? If so, can this change?

At the start of the movie The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo a choice. Will he choose the red pill or the blue pill? 

For those who know this science fiction movie, Neo has been living in the simulated reality (the Matrix) created by the Machines. Morpheus gives Neo the chance to break free from that illusory world and discover the truth about his existence.

Related: The Player Issues of the Maple Leafs Studs & Duds Lineup

The Metaphor of the Red Pill

When Morpheus presents Neo with a red pill, he explains that taking it will lead him to the truth. However, that truth is harsh and challenging. If Neo chooses it, he will awaken from the Matrix and see reality as it truly is. In the movie, that reality is a desolate, post-apocalyptic world where humanity is enslaved by machines. 

The Metaphor of the Blue Pill 

Morpheus also offers Neo the opportunity to choose the blue pill. That pill represents the choice to remain in ignorance and continue living within the comforting illusion of the Matrix. If Neo takes the blue pill, he’ll return to his ordinary life and will remain unaware of the truth behind the simulated reality.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs UD
Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs UD

The choice between the red and blue pill was, for Neo, the philosophical choice to embrace the harsh truth that led to his journey of self-discovery. It pushed him to challenge the oppressive system of the Machines. On the other hand, the blue pill represented his decision to remain living in the comfort of his ignorance and continuing to remain complacent in the illusion.

Does The Matrix Make Any Sense in Today’s NHL Reality?

Obviously, The Matrix is a work of science fiction. However, is there an NHL choice between taking the blue pill or the red pill? 

In this post, I want to explore how the metaphor of choosing the red pill or the blue pill might correlate to real-life choices. In this, I am thinking about players on the Maple Leafs who are currently engaging in real-life salary negotiations and those who might engage them in the future. 

Taking the Blue Pill Means Embracing the Way Things Are

For Auston Matthews and William Nylander (and Mitch Marner who will go through the process next season), salary negotiations represent a choice between the blue pill and the red pill. The blue pill allows players like Matthews, Nylander, and Marner to accept the current financial system and the salary structure as it plays out on their own team. 

If they decide not to challenge the norm, they will instead embrace the lucrative contracts offered to them and allow their agents to fight for every penny they can extract from the team. 

Taking the blue pill allows them to continue to focus on their own financial gain and secure places as highly-paid superstars. Only a few get there, and it’s a lofty status. But, if they do that, their choice to get all the money they can also perpetuates income disparities within their own team. In other words, there’s less money to go around to pay others. Logically, the team becomes weaker as they get more wealthy.

Taking the blue pill leaves things as they are and avoids potential conflicts or tensions that might come from challenging established NHL norms. On the Maple Leafs’ current roster, given the umbrella of the salary cap’s upper limit, this approach would lead to the continuation of the “studs and duds” dynamic. In that dynamic, a select few earn huge salaries. At the same time, others – the team’s depth players – receive much lower compensation.

Related: Does Arbitration Mean Maple Leafs Don’t Want Samsonov?

Taking the Red Pill Means Challenging the System

On the other hand, the metaphorical “red pill” could represent players like Marner and Matthews breaking out of the box to challenge the existing financial structure. They could advocate for more equitable compensation models. This would involve leadership in discussions about the value of supporting players. It would involve recognizing the contributions of the entire team to its success.

By taking the red pill, players might seek to promote a more collective and team approach to salary negotiations. It would highlight the importance of team unity, support, and fair recognition for all members. 

This approach could lead to more balanced contracts and a team culture that values the contributions of all players, regardless of their financial compensation. 

That stance is not new to this team. But, so far, only two players I know have done it. One was Jason Spezza who played for the NHL league minimum during his entire Maple Leafs’ tenure. The other was Mark Giordano, who signed for close to the NHL league minimum. 

True, they were at the end of their careers and had earned their money already. But, there might be a place in the middle that would allow some give and take. As in, give a little in the AAV salary to put a better team together that could (possibly) take home the Stanley Cup. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ 4 Worst Seasons in Team History

How Much Will and Trust Is There to Challenge the System?

I have no illusion that NHL players would have the collective will and trust in each other and their team to challenge the system. Yet, that system continues to structure the Maple Leafs in ways that militate against the possibility they’ll win the Stanley Cup. The problem is that there really is a finite salary-cap number. It represents the upper limit that a team can pay its players – all of them – as a team.

While the concept of the blue pill and red pill from The Matrix is a metaphor to explore the choices of awareness and perception. It does not directly translate to real-life salary negotiations. Does it?

In reality, professional athletes like Marner and Matthews negotiate contracts with the help of their agents. They are based on factors that include on-ice performance, market value, team finances, and league regulations. The system pushes the “haves” to go for the huge paydays. Then the team scrambles to fill in the gaps with the money that remains. Hence, “studs and duds.”

The Logic for the Maple Leafs Winning the Stanley Cup

I believe the analogy invites us all to consider the potential impact of choices made by high-profile players on salary negotiations and the broader dynamics within a team or league. Ultimately, the complex world of NHL hockey balances individual players’ financial aspirations (first) and a consideration of the collective interest of what’s best for the team (second).  

Mark Giordano Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano Maple Leafs

Right now, we have a situation on this Maple Leafs’ roster where the stars are raking it in. And, as they do, the team “below” them is weaker for their wealth. 

It isn’t a logical system for putting the best team on the ice. That’s the deep irony that each NHL team faces as it negotiates contracts with its top players. 

With the Maple Leafs, the logic suggests that the higher the contracts the star players – the “studs” are receiving – the further away from the Stanley Cup the team is moving.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Nylander, Pesce & Boucher



  1. getrdone

    July 23, 2023 at 7:36 am

    It is totally true, that if the top players rake in all the money they can that it weakens the rest of the team because of the stars’ greed. If they want to play for the cup then some money has to be left in the cap to top up the talent needed for a cup run.

  2. gcmgome

    July 23, 2023 at 8:59 am

    I’ve argued this same point many times but it is especially salient with these players at this time. Where a professional athlete has every right to sell their talents for every penny they can get, the situation in Toronto is somewhat unique. Matthews and Marner have cashed in big time with their second professional contracts at an early stage in their careers.
    Through no fault of their own, the pandemic caused a flat cap and put them in a situation where they were gobbling up a large percentage of the team’s available cap funds.
    With career earnings estimates upon current contract expiry (not including endorsements) coming in at $52,995,000 for Matthews and $52,133,000 for Marner, how much more money do these young men need?
    Its a fair question….they are blameless for the cap struggles the team has endured so far but if they try to squeeze as much as they can from the team going forward, that will no longer be the case.

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