At Friday’s Toronto Maple Leafs press conference with Auston Matthews and general manager (GM) Brad Treliving, several key revelations shed light on the contract negotiation process and Matthews’ role on the team. I believe these revelations give fans valuable insight into Matthews’ leadership, intelligence and the dynamic behind his contract renewal.

In this post, I will try to reveal what I think are the top five takeaways and what they tell us about the two main characters – Matthews and Treliving – who attended this conference.

Conclusion 1: Treliving admitted that Matthews directed the show

During the media conference call, Matthews stated that the four-year tenure felt right for both his well-being and the flexibility of the team. When it was his turn to answer questions, GM Treliving commended Matthews’ leadership and willingness to strike a balance in contract negotiations. He stressed the importance of finding a balance (the so-called “sweet spot”) between length and money in all players’ contracts, particularly as this would impact salary cap restrictions.

Treliving shared that Matthews has always expressed his commitment to the team and the city. As for the team’s future, Treliving reported that he is focused on improving the roster and noted his ongoing discussions with head coach Sheldon Keefe. He also reaffirmed his commitment to securing a new contract for William Nylander. His brief assessment of Nylander during the conversation was that he was a “star”.

Conclusion 2: Treliving thought Matthews was considering the team

Maybe I was reading too much into context, but I felt like Treliving took a deep breath when he realized Matthews wasn’t going to press him or take advantage of the team’s predicament.

Related: 4 predictions for William Nylander’s 2023-24 season

Treliving remarked, “The bottom line is… you’re talking about one of the best talents in the world. Given the situation he was in, he could walk in and ask for a lot more than what he was getting. That’s just the reality.”

Treliving also admitted, “It [the contract signing] gets done because Auston says he wants it done. I want it not to be a problem. I want the focus to be where it needs to be, which is to win and put all of our energy on the ice.”

Brad Treliving, Toronto Maple Leafs (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Treliving summarized, “And that’s why it’s done. Ultimately, it is a sign of leadership. We could all wish for certain things, but until the player wants to make it and that’s why it gets done.”

Conclusion 3: Treliving believes that Matthews is really intelligent

When he first took over the Maple Leafs’ GM role, Treliving made it a point to meet up with Matthews in Arizona to build the relationship.

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Treliving said of this process, “What I’ve really learned through this process is how smart he is [Matthews] Is. He absorbs a lot of information. He is an independent thinker. He’s very intellectual.”

Treliving told Matthews, “It wasn’t just a process of trying to work out a contract, it was more about getting an overview.” If I come, where do I see the team? The things we would like to do. Get his thoughts.”

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Treliving added: “But then [we’d] Just have a few general conversations about life and get to know each other. This fits seamlessly into the business side of contract processing.”

In summary, Treliving thinks Matthews is an intelligent person. Through the interactions and conversations with him during the negotiation process, he learned a lot about the Arizona native. Treliving noted Matthews’ ability to absorb large amounts of information, his independent thinking, and his intellectual approach to discussions.

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Their discussions were reported to have been “extensive,” covering not just the contract but also the context and direction of the team, as well as her personal life. Treliving was impressed with Matthews’ ability to contribute to these discussions and provide valuable insights. I wonder if there is “Now what?” Conversations to have after this off-season. I’ll share one below.

Conclusion 4: Matthews could be a good captain

Elements in Treliving’s comments clearly indicate that Matthews would be a good consideration to captain the team. First, the notion that Matthews is an independent thinker is important. This trait indicates that he has the ability to lead effectively as he makes decisions, takes initiative and thinks critically.

Second, Treliving mentioned Matthews’ cerebral approach. The ability to be intellectual means Matthews has the ability to think strategically, understand the nuances of the game (and business) and make thoughtful decisions on and off the ice.

Related: Auston Matthews is poised to rewrite the Maple Leafs’ goal-scoring records

Third, Treliving noted Matthew’s ability to contribute to discussions. He emphasized that their conversations extended beyond contract negotiations, noting that Matthews was active on team direction and other “life issues.” A willingness to engage in such discussions is a common trait of team leaders and captains.

My comments here do not suggest that I believe Matthews should replace John Tavares as captain of the team. But I suggest that I believe Treliving came out of the process, that Matthews (a) balanced both his own interests and those of the team in the negotiations and (b) possessed the qualities one would normally expect associated with effective leadership of an ice hockey team.

As I reviewed what I considered to be the most important takeaways from the media conference, I noticed five key takeaways that I believe were embedded in it.

First, Auston Matthews is valuable to this franchise. Not only is he considered one of the top hockey talents in the world, but he also comes across as eating his cake but not eating it.

Auston Matthews Lids Partnership (Image courtesy of Lids)

He’s valuable to the franchise because while he got a big contract, he also thought about the team and didn’t shake it too much. In this process, he established his importance and key role as the team progressed.

Second, Matthews took over most of the bargaining power. He seemed to have taken the most important role in the negotiations. He entered the process, harnessing the power of his talent and his status in the league.

Related: Auston Matthews New Deal: Win-Win, Lose-Lose, or No Big Deal?

He left the country with his power not only intact but even strengthened. He could have asked for a more lucrative contract but decided against it. As he did so, he thought about the team. I believe he has the ability now and will probably perform better over the next four seasons. That’s a likely possibility, which I think emerges from the negotiations.

Third, the negotiations were a player-driven decision. The contract came about because Matthews wanted it completed. The trial demonstrated both Matthews’ agency and his desire to ensure the negotiations did not become a distraction. Now, as said at the end of the conference, the team can move on to the next step. This also includes the focus on victory.

Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner celebrate a goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Fourth, Matthews established himself in a leadership role on the team. His decision to sign the contract is a sign of leadership, showing that he prioritizes the success of the team and is willing to make compromises to achieve that goal.

Fifth, Matthews showed that he was team-oriented. Any remaining questions about Matthews’ loyalty have now been resolved. He has two main goals; These balance his own future and his commitment to the team. His actions underscored the importance of team cohesion and the need to focus on team success rather than off-ice deals.

Conclusion: Matthews is the leader of the Maple Leafs

Overall, Matthews proved to be a key player in these five takeaways from Friday’s media conference call. In doing so, he cemented his own worth as a player and as a team leader. He was intelligent and willing to take over the contract negotiations.

By the way, I have the feeling that he appreciates the team that he will lead at least for the next four years.

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