Maple Leafs sign star center Auston Matthews to four-year, $53 million extension

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TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews has put pen to paper on a deal that is set to make him the NHL’s highest-paid player.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs — and their fans — can finally exhale.

The star center signed a four-year, $53 million extension on Wednesday that ties him to the team that selected him first overall at the 2016 NHL draft through the 2027-28 season.

The deal carries an average annual value of $13.25 million, which will make Matthews the league’s highest-paid player beginning in 2024-25, surpassing Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon’s $12.6 AAV.

Matthews has one season left on his current contract — a five-year, $58.2 million pact signed in February 2019 — that could have walked him into unrestricted free agency next summer.

“I feel fortunate to continue this journey as a Maple Leaf in front of the best fans in hockey,” Matthews posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. “I will do everything I can to help get us to the top of the mountain.”

Matthews won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 2021-22 thanks to a league-best 60 goals that also propelled him to a second consecutive Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy.

The stats for the 25-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., dipped slightly in 2022-23, but he still found the back of the net 40 times as part of an 85-point season over 74 games.

Matthews added five goals and six assists in 11 playoff games, helping Toronto advance in the postseason for the first time since 2004.

The future of the Leafs’ best player dominated social media and talk radio after their season ended. Matthews had his full no-movement clause kick in July 1, meaning he had significant control of his future in contract talks.

Another wrinkle was the uncertainty both in Toronto’s front office and behind the bench.

The team fired general manager Kyle Dubas — the man responsible for signing Matthews and fellow “Core Four” star forwards Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander — to put a bow on a bizarre exit, and replaced him with former Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving.

The future of head coach Sheldon Keefe was left uncertain with one year left on his contract before Treliving confirmed at June’s NHL draft the 42-year-old would be back, but without a contract extension.

Toronto’s roster construction in the Dubas era came under fire for its top-heavy nature that included close to 50 percent of the club’s salary cap hit dedicated to four offensive players that resulted in little playoff success.

Tavares ($11 million AAV) and Marner ($10.9 million AAV) have two years remaining on their contracts. Nylander, like Matthews, is heading into the final year of his current deal, which carries an AAV of close to $7 million.

Matthews, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2016-17 and added the Ted Lindsay Award to his mantle in 2021-22 as the league’s most outstanding player according to his peers, has 299 goals and 542 points in 481 regular-season games.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL