Rumors abound that the Toronto Maple Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen is about to be traded. There’s speculation about where and why, but those speculations are largely pragmatic and not personal. That is, they are all about the money, the salary cap, or future contracts, or potential help on defense. They are not about the feelings or desires of the players.
And, that’s the basis of my logic in this post. The potential Andersen trade is treated in an exceedingly emotionless manner; however, I don’t believe NHL players are emotionless pragmatists. They are people with feelings and memories.
What Is an NHL Trade?
Let me start at the beginning with the definition of a trade.
Specifically, in NHL hockey, a trade is defined as a transaction between teams that involves the exchange of a player’s rights from one team to another. That means that, if players wish to keep playing hockey and get paid for their play, they are legally bound to play for the owner of their rights. The very essence of a trade is that if you’re a player the ownership of your right to play changes to another team.
By definition, a trade treats players like a commodity or a trade “piece.” Thus, by definition, an exchange of player’s rights should be emotionless. However, theory and practice differ. My experience tells me that players cannot fully be defined by their rights. They are also feeling people whose actions are determined partly by those feelings. Specifically, players involved in a trade – in this specific case in point Frederik Andersen – have feelings that matter.
Human Questions Are Part of a Trade
I have been told – and to a point agree – that I am overly relational as a hockey writer. I’ve grown to value in my work as a teacher and a family member for 50+ years (I write by the name the Old Prof for a reason) the importance of relationships.
So in this short hockey post, which is Part One of my thinking, I want to focus on another aspect of trading a player that I haven’t seen touched on before. I want to look at some of the human aspects of a trade on the person traded? (Part Two tomorrow will outline some of the reasons that ground my logic.)
In this post, I will share my belief that if the Maple Leafs trade Andersen this offseason Matthews will move to the Arizona Coyotes when his current five-year contract is over. At least, I will outline that possibility.
Where We Are with Frederik Andersen’s Trade
As I have noted, within the definition of a trade, there’s no legal obligation by a team to consider the desires of a player under contract unless that player has negotiated a “clause” in his contract to make it so. This is true for Andersen trade rumors as well. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan, everywhere you look you see news, stories, and rumors about your team trading its starting goalie.
The questions include:
Would the team be better if it traded him prior to the final season of his contract?
Can the team get another good goalie (maybe even better than Andersen) on a less expensive contract? A lot of good goalies might be coming on the market.
Does the team have enough salary-cap space to re-sign Andersen for next season AND keep it’s core of young forwards as well?
Is it more important for the team to trade off a goalie for a first-pairing defenseman?
Obviously, there are more questions than these. And these crucial questions are also exceedingly pragmatic and logical. But they’re not “human” questions. Here’s how the human aspect of this works out in my mind.
The Steps in My Thinking
Thought One: Andersen and Matthews are teammates on the Maple Leafs. They are also close friends. Prior to COVID-19 they were often seen together at Toronto Raptors games. During the NHL suspension they decided to live together at Matthews home in Scottsdale. Ergo, if Andersen is traded, his friendship with Matthews (and with other Maple Leafs players) is disrupted.
Thought Two: Trading Andersen now for pragmatic reasons – because his contract might not work after this season or because of potential salary-cap problems – is probably good hockey business, but it doesn’t show the organization’s loyalty to players who have been through season after season of on-ice battles as teammates.
Thought Three: Before the 2019-20 season, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas signed Matthews to a 5-year $58 million contract. That puts his average annual average salary at $11.634 million USD per season; but, because the contract is weighed heavily upfront so that, in 2019-20, Matthews earned a base salary of $700,000 but was paid a signing bonus of $15 million.
Although that’s a huge amount of money, Matthews’ stellar play suggests that – if anyone on the team is worth that payout, it’s Matthews. At the time of the contract signing, Brian Burke said Dubas was silly to sign Matthews for only five seasons because when that contract expires Matthews would become a 27-year-old UFA. He could sign with any other NHL team.
Thought Four: Four more years remain on Matthews’ contract. When it’s finished, Matthews will be in his prime at 27 years old. Assuming he’s still playing well, it’s crunch time for the Maple Leafs. Can they re-sign their young star?
Matthews obviously loves being at his home in Arizona. His family still lives there and he loves his mother’s cooking – tortilla soup is his favorite. As he grew, watching Coyotes players Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk fuelled his growing interest in playing professional hockey.
There are also pragmatic reasons for playing in Arizona. As Burke mentioned in 2019, the tax ramifications and cost of living in Arizona is much less than in Toronto.
Still, personal decisions might be important. As noted, Matthews lives in Phoenix during the offseason. And everything we watch about Matthews suggests that family and friendship are important to him.
About Matthews’ family, his mom Ema is from Hermosillo, Mexico. She and Matthews’ father Brian sacrificed to help their son have a chance to play hockey. Ema worked two jobs to help pay the fees for his early hockey teams and for private skating lessons. She even moved to Switzerland in 2015 to live with Matthews when he played there prior to the NHL draft. Matthews’ oldest sister Alex also came to Switzerland when she was on a break from college to help Matthews finish his online studies.
Final Thought Five: When Matthews’ current contract ends, I would guess that the Maple Leafs would try to re-sign him. They would probably hope that he’s grown to love Toronto and his team. They would hope he’d want to remain part of that same group of players who’ve worked hard together towards a Stanley Cup. The Maple Leafs could offer an extra year on his contract another team couldn’t.
In truth, a long list of reasons would line up on the “Stay in Toronto” side of the ledger. But on the “Moving to Arizona” side of the ledger would include playing in front of family, being home, tax implications, and more.
However, if the Maple Leafs trade Frederik Andersen now, the one argument the organization can never make is the that “we were loyal to you, would you be loyal to us.”
Do You Believe Andersen and Matthews Are Talking?
This morning, I’m not sure where either Andersen or Matthews might be residing. But, given their history together, there’s a chance they might talk today – either in person or by Zoom. If so, I would guess they’d talk about the rumors of a potential Andersen trade. That’s what friends do.
If a Maple Leafs fan only thinks pragmatically – in terms of dollars and cents – it might be that my logic is the most ignorant thing ever because friends get traded all the time and they are pros. They should get used to it! Perhaps that’s correct. Perhaps moving on is an emotionless task, without feelings involved.
But that hasn’t been my experience throughout my life. Everything I know about living suggests that players have feelings and grow close to each other as they go to war playing hockey together.
If I’m at all right, is there a chance that Matthews might be thinking that, if his friend isn’t shown loyalty, why would he show loyalty to the Maple Leafs in four years?
That’s what I see.
Part Two of this post tomorrow – the fuller logic behind my thinking.
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