A Leafs team that features both Auston Matthews AND Connor McDavid is possible with the rising cap

September 29, 2022  (9:11)

With the NHL informing teams that the salary cap is projected to rise by approximately $10M in the coming years, it could very well lead to a dream come true for Leafs fans. If the salary cap does indeed go up as intended, there is a realistic possibility that the Leafs could make a pitch for Connor McDavid during free agency in the summer of 2026, should the Richmond Hill, Ontario native wish to explore his options in the UFA market.

Going into this season one of the biggest fears is, will Auston Matthews sign an extension next summer or head into the final year of his deal with a no-move clause and no guarantees that he'll return to Toronto in 2024? Nylander, like Matthews, is also set to become a UFA in the summer of 2024. In addition, the Buds will have some big decisions to make in the summer following the 2024-25 season, as captain John Tavares and Mitch Marner are both due extensions in 2025.
Naturally, John Tavares will be in the twilight of his career when his deal expires. If the Leafs decide to bring him back, it will be at a heavily discounted rate. Should the Leafs be unable to secure a new deal for Nylander during either of the next two summers, that will also free up a significant amount of salary.
If McDavid decides to hit the free agent market, he will easily command a max contract in every aspect. He's arguably the best player in the world and he'll likely deserve every penny he makes until the day he retires. His next contract could easily be $14-$15 million per season, depending on the financial landscape of the NHL in 2026 and how the top contracts in the league stack up. If Matthews gets somewhere near or above $14M per season, we can almost guarantee that McDavid will get $15M or more. Imagine a scenario in which the Leafs reallocate JT and Nylander's $17M to Connor McDavid and a bargain bin winger.
Now, obviously Kyle Dubas can't focus too much on the long game here, as he is currently lacking a contract extension of his own. It is conceivable that Dubas could be out of a job next summer if the Leafs can't string together some wins when the games matter most in the spring. If that ends up being the case, I think we can probably kiss the McDavid pipedream goodbye, as a new GM would almost certainly reallocate that money elsewhere a full year before the team would even get a crack at pitching McDavid on a return home.
But if (and this is a big IF..) Dubas sticks around and lands himself a long-term extension, he has only Morgan Rielly locked up past 2025. Of course, the Leafs will hope to have Matthews, Marner and Nylander all locked up long-term as well, but as of right now, that's not the case - and with an expected ~92M salary cap, a Superteam is certainly financially possible. The million dollar questions are, though, "will Matthews stay?" and "will McDavid come home?".
A Leafs team that features both Auston Matthews AND Connor McDavid is possible with the rising cap

Will Connor McDavid ever be a Leaf during his NHL career?

Yes15050.8 %
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