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Maple Leafs working to sign Matthews, Marner as soon as possible

GM Dubas hopes to avoid forwards each becoming restricted free agent July 1

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are actively working to sign forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner to new contracts before July 1, 2019, when each can become a restricted free agent.

"We continue to have discussions with (agents) Judd Moldaver (Matthews) and Darren Ferris (Marner) and both of their camps," general manager Kyle Dubas said Monday. "It will be our intention to try to get those (done) as soon as possible."

Matthews and Marner each is in the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract and is eligible to sign a new contract. After going through a protracted negotiation with forward William Nylander, who was a restricted free agent until signing a six-year, $45 million contract Dec. 1, minutes before the 5 p.m. ET deadline to be able to play in the NHL this season, Dubas wants to avoid a similar situation with Matthews and Marner, and he said he is confident the Maple Leafs will be able to do so.

"It would be our intention well before July 1 that we have an agreement and both players are here long term," Dubas said. "One way or another, we'll get to that point."

Matthews has 159 points (90 goals, 69 assists) in 163 NHL games. Marner leads the Maple Leafs in scoring this season with 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) in 33 games and has 173 points (49 goals, 124 assists) in 192 NHL games. Not only would getting each signed prior to July 1 mitigate the possibility of the negotiation stretching into next season as it did with Nylander, it would also eliminate the risk of teams extending an offer sheet to either or both.

Video: TOR@BOS: Matthews goes top shelf on Johnsson's pass

However, Dubas said he is not concerned by the possibility of another team targeting Matthews or Marner with an offer sheet.

"Our salary cap situation is set up that we could defend any of those threats with no worry at all," Dubas said. "(Offer sheets have) become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero percent of my time having any worry about that. If a team wants to go down that path with us, that's the way it goes. Our goal is to continue to work with these players; the players have both stated they want to be here, and it's our goal to continue to work with them and their agents towards an agreement."

Though Matthews and Marner have generated a lot of focus about potential offer sheet targets, Dubas pointed out Toronto is far from the only team facing negotiations with elite-level restricted free agents. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning are just some of the other impending restricted free agents having a successful season who will require new contracts for 2019-20.

"When I look around the League right now, for whatever reason, it seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team that is going to be a target of an offer sheet," Dubas said. "Seems interesting to me, but there's about a third of the teams that have a very highly talented RFA and some have more than one as we do."

Contracts for Matthews and Marner are not the only business Dubas faces, though. Defenseman Jake Gardiner, who is in the final season of a five-year $20.25 million contract, could become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and remains a player the Maple Leafs would like to try to retain. However, the Maple Leafs general manager suggested Matthews and Marner are more likely to be dealt with first.

Video: TOR@BUF: Gardiner nets Tavares' superb feed

"With Jake, he is a key part and it's the same spot it was a few weeks ago. We have some other matters we have to tend to, and that's been communicated to Jake as well," Dubas said. "We'll continue to stay in contact and work with him. We would like him to be here, but it's not as simple as it sounds, you only have a certain amount you can divvy up, and it's trying to make that all work and keep our team on the right path moving forward."

The Maple Leafs (21-10-2) are in third place in the Atlantic Division, and they are third in the Eastern Conference in scoring (117 goals) and fourth in goals-against (93). Dubas said he thinks Toronto can improve internally on the back end but would consider upgrading its defensemen in advance of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 if he does not see sufficient progression by then.

"We would like to continue to move the puck better from our own zone. Some of that falls on our forwards to get open and available and on the defense to execute when they are open and available," Dubas said. "It is an area we continue to want to improve upon and I think we can make great gains and continue to improve as a club. If that something that isn't happening as we get closer to the end of February, I think we'll certainly look to improve."

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