The ''Core 4'' are giving the Leafs their money's worth and then some this season; All four are actually worth more than they're paid

Ryan Smitheram
December 12, 2022  (11:32)

This morning, The Athletic released their most recent player cards, which assess the value of each player, positive or negative, based on their current contract value. For the Leafs, to no-ones surprise, the "Core 4" are proving to be worth every penny and more on their current contracts. Given that we are just past the quarter-mark of the season, the sample size of stats for the report cards is fairly sufficient to provide an accurate "market value".

Let's begin with Auston Matthews, who everyone seems to think is having an "off" season. Matthews has 15 goals and 34 points on the season so far, and while he is slightly behind his torrid goal-scoring pace from last season, he is still on pace for 50 goals and 101 points. According to The Athletic and their model for determining a player's value, Matthews ranks in the 100th percentile of goals, expected goals, penalty differential, offensive plus/minus, usage plus/minus and Game Score Value Added (GSVA) while ranking in the 90th percentile or better in ice time, assists and points. Given his current salary of $11.6M and the "Market Value" determined through The Athletic's model, which in Matthews' case is $19.3M, Matthews is providing a surplus value of almost $8M, at $7.7M. The highest surplus value among the "Core 4".
Mitch Marner is very similar to Matthews with regard to his percentile rankings in a season where he is currently on a 22-game point streak and on pace to eclipse the century mark for the first time in his career. He is projected to finish with 35 goals and 68 assists for 103 points while having a much higher defensive plus/minus rating than Matthews (87th percentile vs 78th percentile). With a salary of $10.9M and a market value of $14.9M Marner is providing the Leafs with a surplus value of $4M.
Next up, we have William Nylander who has registered 23 points since November 1st. That point production has him on pace to eclipse his goal and points career highs which he set last season. Currently, he is projected to score 41 goals and finish the season just shy of 90 points with 88. While he doesn't rank as high as Matthews and Marner in many of the different categories, the biggest change for Nylander is his defensive plus/minus projection. Last season his defensive plus/minus was -0.9 and this season he is projected to finish with a defensive plus/minus of 3.1 showing he has grown massively in his defensive game. Growing in his defensive game has helped him offensively as he is one of the, if not the Leafs' best transition and entry forward carrying the puck. WIth a current salary of $7M and a market value of $13.1M, Nylander is almost providing the Leafs with a surplus value of $6.2M - almost double his current salary.
Finally, there is the elder statesman of the group and the Captain John Tavares. The Athletic projects Tavares to crack the 30-goal mark for the first time since the 2019/20 season and finish with 77 points. While his offensive plus/minus is projected to drop to 2.3 from 6.2 last season, like Nylander, his defensive plus/minus is projected to skyrocket. Last season he finished with a defensive plus/minus of -1 and is projected to finish this season with a rating of 6.3 meaning there has been a significant improvement on the defensive side of the puck. Tavares is providing the lowest surplus value among the "Core 4" with only $1.1M surplus when comparing his contract and market value, but the intangibles he brings to the locker room and the ice makes up for any lack of production.
As many people called the Marner, Nylander and Tavares contracts overpayments, it goes to show that each of them is living up to and surpassing their contract value. Marner has earned every penny that he held out for and Nylander is an absolute bargain of a deal at this stage of his contract. Matthews continues to be a scoring machine - picking up the pace recently, but his two-way game is what has improved drastically the past couple of seasons while Tavares continues to be the steady hand and Mr. Dependable in faceoffs and defensively. Sometimes contracts don't just reward offensive production, which is the most difficult thing to get people to understand and the models produced by The Athletic and represented in the weekly report cards goes to show how value is found in even the highest of contracts.
The ''Core 4'' are giving the Leafs their money's worth and then some this season; All four are actually worth more than they're paid

Do you think the Leafs can afford to re-sign all 4 of Matthews, Nylander, Marner and Tavares when they're due new deals?

Yes9256.8 %
No7043.2 %
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