After another disappointing elimination in the playoffs, members of both the team and management group appear to bare the weight very heavily. On May 15, 2023, the Toronto Maple Leafs held their media availability, and it was yet another year of the same quotes. As well as another year of questions surrounding the team’s core.
Although William Nylander came to life during the back half of the round two series against the Florida Panthers, the rest of the core four seemed disengaged. John Tavares and Auston Matthews failed to find the back of the net in all five games, which is quite the opposite of what they are paid to do. As for Mitch Marner, the rumour mill is circling him the most.
Marner’s Postseason Struggles
After yet another amazing season, Marner seemed to struggle in the postseason. He did have 14 points, however, 11 of them came in the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. When the team needed their MVP the most, he came up short, again. So, now the question has to be asked. Is playing in Toronto (his hometown) too much pressure for him?
It doesn’t seem like any fan will ever know the answer, the only ones that will are his family and the team. However, if you think about it, it seems like playing his hometown team is almost too much for him mentally, and that limits his production when the pressure is on. Maybe that is due to the lack of success during seven years with the team, or maybe it is because he use to creating space in the regular season, and when the playoffs roll around it’s a different game. Either way, the organization needs to figure out why and address it properly so that this core can finally get over its postseason fears and find success.
Maple Leafs’ Perspective
When the Maple Leafs’ general manager (GM) took the mic at the media availability, he mentioned, “I would take nothing off the table at all.” He also brought up the trade the Panthers made last offseason with the Calgary Flames and how that changed the team dynamic. Now, it is important to point out that trading one of the best players on your team could backfire, especially when Marner openly tells the media that he wants to play for the Leafs. With that said, it seems like the ownership group and front office may be tired of the same result every season and could be looking at making a big splash.
Related: Marner Might Be the Odd Man Out With Maple Leafs’ Core Four
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Is Marner the right player to go? Well, it’s always hard to trade a player with that skill level, but he may be the only viable option. Nylander has one year left on his deal but also has shown up year after year in the postseason. Also, if he wanted to sign an extension, he can do so as soon as July 1, 2023. The expectation would be an increase in his average annual value (AAV) to somewhere around $9-10 million but still not as much as Marner’s $10.9 million until he is eligible for an extension on July 1, 2024.
There is no way that the Maple Leafs part with Matthews unless, of course, he doesn’t want to re-sign with the club, and they move him rather than lose him for free. However, at the postseason press conference, he stated that “my intention is to be here.” So that essentially takes Matthews out of the equation. As for Tavares, he has a full no-move clause (NMC), which means everything the team may want to do surrounding him, needs to be approved by him. This essentially means that he is off the table unless he agrees to waive his NMC, but that doesn’t seem likely. This brings us back to Marner as the only realistic option to trade to shake up the team dynamic.
Marner Trade Destinations
All this talk about being open to trading anyone may just be noise, but we will still look at some teams that could be interested in Marner in case the Maple Leafs truly change things up. It wouldn’t make sense for the team to trade Marner to another club in their division. Most teams tend to fear the chance of having the player you trade be the X-factor when you play them. So, Toronto would be wise to copy what the Panthers did with the Matthew Tkachuk trade when they acquired him from the Calgary Flames.
Related: What a Matthews Extension with the Maple Leafs Could Look Like
If any teams would be interested in Marner from the Western Conference, the two teams that come to mind are the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kings could use a player like Marner to finally stack up against the Edmonton Oilers in the postseason. He also has experience playing in a big market with a big following, so if he can move out of Toronto and get away from his hometown pressure, he could potentially make a serious impact in the postseason.
Related: Blackhawks Will Need to Wisely Build Around Connor Bedard
The Blackhawks got the best gift from the hockey gods, the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Playoffs. They will select Connor Bedard to be the cornerstone of their franchise. If they can add Marner to play alongside Bedard may be the best thing for their rebuild. If both teams could work out a deal, then Chicago could quickly become a team everyone wants to go to.
Although it seems very unlikely that the Maple Leafs will part ways with Marner, it seems that something needs to change. The change would simply be a change in the head coach and then bring back all four members of the core. However, there has been a lot of speculation that the organization has everything on the table, and that could mean that at least one member of the core will not be returning.