The Toronto Maple Leafs polarizing right-winger Mitch Marner has had an up-down-and-up-again season. The first “up” was that he had a great regular season. The “down” was his performance during the playoffs. The second “up” was being named for the first time to the 1st NHL all-star team.
It Was a Great Regular Season Followed by Not-So-Great Playoffs
During the regular season, Marner worked so seamlessly with his first-line partner Auston Matthews that it was almost as if they shared a brain. Each seemed to know what the other line-mate was thinking; and, by the end of the season both achieved great successes on the score sheet. Specifically, Matthews led the NHL in goal scoring with 41 goals. Marner came in fourth in NHL scoring with 67 points.
However, in comparison to all that regular-season success, during the playoffs the duo struggled. With their team up three games to one and a timely goal away from ousting the Montreal Canadiens, their scoring evaporated. The Maple Leafs were eliminated in seven games and the Canadiens went on to win two more series and are now still hanging on in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Marner’s Suffered the Ire of the Fans
Since that elimination, Marner has suffered the ire of Maple Leafs’ fans. Some even suggested he should be traded. Even being voted to the NHL’s first-team all-star unit has done little to move in the needle with Toronto fans. In fact, during recent posts, many fans have started to return to memories of Marner’s contentious negotiations for his current contract.
There’s no doubt those negotiations left a bad taste in fan’s mouths. A number of fans point to the negotiations as revealing two things: first, Marner’s not a team player; and, second, Marner isn’t worth the money he’s paid. His contract is out of line with his production.
Considering Marner’s Contract: Is He Really Overpaid?
Again in this post, I’m collaborating with Stan Smith to attempt to answer two questions: First, “Is Mitch Marner overpaid?” Second, “If he is overpaid, by how much?”
In an earlier post, Stan and I looked at advanced hockey statistics to see how Marner’s postseason production matched his playoff production. We titled our post “Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner’s “Poor” Playoffs By The Numbers.” Those advanced statistics supported a slightly different analysis from Marner’s critics. We found that, when one applied advanced statistics, Marner didn’t actually have as bad a postseason as most people thought.
In the “Conversation section” of that post, readers – as we invite them to – disagreed with the analysis and invited us to use our eyes and common sense. In this post, we’ve accepted that invitation. We’ll totally ignore advanced stats and go “Old School” by comparing Marner’s regular-season production to his salary-cap hit to see how Marner’s cap hit compares to other NHL forwards.
Our Analysis Is Based on Regular-Season Production
Our analysis of the top 10 forwards is based on regular-season, not playoff production. Most fans likely agree Marner has underperformed during the playoffs over the past two postseasons. No argument from us. However, for practical purposes it’s really difficult to compare individual NHL forwards on postseason production because that production is so contextual.
For example, this season one player’s (Nikita Kucherov’s, the 15th highest-paid NHL player) team plays 25 games, while another player’s team (Connor McDavid’s, the highest-paid NHL player) is ousted during the first playoff series. Last season Kucherov’s Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the season before they were swept early by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Related: NWHL 2021 Draft Recap
That’s why players are paid during the regular season and not for the playoffs. Furthermore, they generally are paid based on their regular-season performance and not their playoff performance.
[As an aside, Stan notes that he can’t recall a single player who’s signed a lucrative NHL contract based solely on the playoffs. Milan Lucic came to mind, but when he looked back he found that Lucic led the Boston Bruins in scoring during the regular season prior to signing his first big contract.]
Our Analysis Is Based on Total Points and Not Just Goal Scoring
We also recognize that an argument can be made that goals are more important than either assists or total points. Here we have chosen to recognize that, since the inception of the NHL, the leading “scorer” in the league has been recognized as the player who had the most points. The trophy awarded to that player – the leading scorer – is the Art Ross trophy.
It wasn’t until the 1998-99 season that the NHL brought in the Maurice Richard Trophy for the player who scored the most goals. Since then, hockey people have come to talk about the Richard being awarded to the top scorer, and the Ross for the top point-getter.
Top Eight Highest-Paid Forwards Against the Salary Cap
|Rank||Player (Team)||Salary-Cap Hit|
|1st||Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)||$12,500,000|
|2nd||Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers)||$11,642,857|
|3rd||Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)||$11,640,250|
|4th||John Tavares (Toronto Maple Leafs)||$11,000,000|
|5th||Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs)||$10,903,000|
|6th||Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)||$10,500,000|
|7th||Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)||$10,500,000|
|8th||Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings)||$10,000,000|
Looking at Marner’s Production
Production vs. Salary
With these notes in mind, looking at Marner’s production, he was fourth in point production during the 2020-21 regular season with 20 goals and 47 assists (for 67 points). Over the past three seasons his totals were eighth in point production with 62 goals and 166 assists (for 228 points).
Marner’s contract pays him $10,903,000 over six seasons. How does that salary compare to the other top paid forwards in the league? The answer is that Marner’s salary-cap hit ranks fifth among NHL forwards. That’s three spots ahead of his eighth overall standings in points the past three seasons.
The eighth highest-paid forward in the NHL is Anze Kopitar at $10 million. From this perspective, Marner would be overpaid by $903,000. However, if we average the salary-cap hits of the top eight NHL forwards, the average cap hit of those eight players is $11,085,763. That’s $182,763 more than Marner’s salary-cap hit. From that perspective, Marner is underpaid at $182,763.
Only Looking at NHL Wingers
An argument could be made that centers should be paid more than wingers. Marner was the highest point-producing winger in the NHL this past season, and was recognized for that by being selected to be the 1st NHL All Star team right-winger. Over the last three seasons, he’s fourth among all wingers in point production.
If we look at the top highest-paid wingers currently in the NHL and average their salary-cap hit, we get $10,409,171, which is $493,828 less than Marner’s cap hit. From this perspective, Marner is overpaid by $493,828.
Maybe the Right Answer Is In the Ballpark
In conclusion, comparing Marner’s pay and his point production to both the top-paid NHL forwards and top-paid NHL wingers, it appears that Marner’s salary-cap hit is higher than other elite NHL players. However, it isn’t higher by the millions of dollars.
Marner’s salary compensation, when compared to other highly-paid NHL players is, at the least, in the ballpark.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf