Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Matthews, Tavares & Mikheyev

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at why fans see Mitch Marner’s recent NHL award as different from the awards that Auston Matthews received. Specifically, I’ll speculate about the impact that Marner’s past has had on his lack of appreciation in Leafs’ Nation. Second, although Matthews still has two more seasons on his contract, I’ll take a look at what others believe the dollar amount and term on his next contract might be.

Related: Maple Leafs May Have Reason to Trade Matthews After 2021-22 Season

Third, I’ll look at Hall of Famer Denis Savard‘s thoughts about the Maple Leafs ending the 29-year Stanley Cup drought experienced by Canadian NHL teams. Finally, I’ll ponder the fate of Maple Leafs’ UFA Ilya Mikheyev.

Item One: Mitch Marner’s Trade Value Has Never Been Higher

Maple Leafs’ fans are a funny lot sometimes. They can be unforgiving. Specifically, some fans have a hate-on for Mitch Marner that extends past what seems reasonable to me. That said, I get why that might be true. I believe his contentious salary negotiations crossed a line that Maple Leafs’ fans held about what players should say and do. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

From my perspective, these negotiations were far too self-promotional and they were far too public. Fans will recall that Matthews’ contract was negotiated and signed during the regular season and negotiated behind closed doors. At the same time, Marner’s agent Darren Ferris chose not to negotiate until the season’s end.

The result of Marner’s contract raised expectations for his play far past what was reasonable for fans to expect. Marner couldn’t and hasn’t been able to deliver on what seemed to be the promise. Many fans now have a bias against him that’s so deep-seated that it might not ever allow him to ever earn back their respect with his play – no matter how well he plays.

That came up yet again this past week when Marner was named to the NHL All-Star team. Instead of being a cause for celebration it was a new reason to trade him as a way to (a) clear his salary-cap hit and (b) move him out of Toronto. 

Although that seems radical, I say it because in a post I wrote during the regular season, I noted that Marner’s career season had pushed him toward 100 points. In fact, I speculated that, had he played an entire season, he would have likely reached 110 points easily. One reader responded that now the Maple Leafs should be able to move him because his trade value had never been higher.

Related: Revisiting the Brent Burns Trade

To me, that suggests that the fans’ ire – at least for this one fan – had turned the corner. Marner had been a fan favorite when he was on an entry-level contract, but that has changed. Now second to fans’ desire to fire Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas, my reading of the Conversation Section of posts suggests that moving Marner would be one thing many Maple Leafs’ fans would like to see.

Item Two: What Will Auston Matthews’ Next Contract Look Like?

Auston Matthews’ current contract runs for two more seasons. Many Maple Leafs’ fans believe he’ll bolt to Arizona to play with his hometown Coyotes. Who knows what’s on Matthews’ mind?

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save on Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Should he stay in Toronto, given his recent success winning both the Hart Trophy and the Ted Linsday Award and his growing reputation as one of the NHL’s truly elite players, the Maple Leafs will have to negotiate with him a sign a new contract. What will the numbers and the term be?

Maple Leafs’ writer Kevin McGran was asked the question today in a Mail Bag post. He suggested that Matthews would likely command over $16 million in average salary. He speculated that the length of the contract would be about four or five years so Matthews could take advantage of a maximum eight-year deal that would begin when he was around 30 or 31 years of age. 

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McGran had a different take from many Maple Leafs’ fans, suggesting that he believed Matthews would re-sign in Toronto because, as he noted, “they’ll have cap space by then.” (from “Leafs mailbag: We’re talking about dollar days for Kadri, Kuemper, Campbell and (it’s never too early) Auston Matthews,” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 24/06/2022).

Item Three: Denis Savard on What John Tavares Move to Toronto Might Mean

In a recent interview where he was commenting about the almost 30-year Stanley Cup drought for Canadian teams, Hall of Fame player Denis Savard speculated about the Maple Leafs’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup. His take was that NHL players signed with teams they believed had the best chance of winning the Cup. 

Denis Savard Chicago Blackhawks
Denis Savard, Chicago Blackhawks, Dec. 1988
(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

He believed that Toronto was one team that had a great shot at the Cup over the next couple of seasons. For Savard, the resurgence of the Maple Leafs began in part when John Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs because he thought they “could win a Cup.” 

Savard believes the Maple Leafs are coming closer season after season. Specifically, he noted that “Toronto is not far off, they possibly could do it next year, or in the next two, (or) three years. They have a great leader and a great player in (Auston) Matthews, and a bunch of other stars.”

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The one player that I’m really interested in – and I’ve mentioned this before – is Ilya Mikheyev. I can’t even speculate what he and his agent Daniel Milstein are thinking. From the history I’ve seen, Milstein and Dubas have a good relationship. Still, that didn’t stop Mikheyev from asking for a trade a year ago.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Knies, Gibson Rumor, Hutton & More

What happens to Mikheyev during this offseason? That question will be answered in about three weeks’ time.