It would be an overstatement to say that all eyes are on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner drama, but probably not by much. Most of the news and rumors emerging from the organization are emanating from Marner’s direction. His contract negotiations, or the deafening silence of those negotiations, are taking up much of the conversation among hockey commentators who cover the team.
Obviously, I’m no different. In this post, I’ve collected a number of the rumors I’ve heard that pertain to the young restricted free agent (RFA) and his on-going struggles to sign a contract with his hometown Maple Leafs.
Item One: John Tavares Is Confident Marner Will Play for the Maple Leafs
We first heard if from William Nylander and now we hear it from teammate John Tavares who, given Nylander’s holdout last season, seems a more credible source. Tavares believes Marner will play for the team this coming season. It’s just a matter of time.
Tavares, who was interviewed by TSN as he attended the second annual Marner All-Star Invitational benefiting the Marner Assist Fund, noted: “I think probably with the way things went with Willie, it obviously makes people wonder and think. But there’s a lot of really good restricted free agents unsigned right now, and it’s not really uncommon, especially at this time, for a lot of guys who over the years have been in the same position.”
Tavares added: “Obviously, there’s been a lot of talk about the offer sheets this year, and it seems more so than other years. But I think obviously the organization and [general manager Kyle Dubas] recognize how important Mitch is to the team and have set up the team and the cap very well to be prepared for anything that comes our team’s way. I think we know how much Mitch loves being here and wants to be a part of it here. There’s no doubt in my mind that something will get done here eventually.”
I have three thoughts about Tavares’ comments. First, he is aware of the turmoil Marner’s negotiations are having on both the Maple Leafs organization and the fans because he’s trying to settle anxieties. Second, players have come to see such difficult negotiations as part of how they deal with their teams. I for one can’t imagine how such long-term tussles such as salary negotiations don’t leave a lingering residue of nastiness after they’ve been completed. Third, I’m happy Marner is sponsoring community-oriented activities that help others around Toronto. That means something positive to me as a fan.
By the way, Nazem Kadri, who was a victim of salary-cap clearing in his recent trade to the Colorado Avalanche, also attended the second annual Marner All-Star Invitational and noted: “He’s one of the best, maybe quite possibly [the best] in the League. Obviously, [Marner] deserves to get paid.”
Item Two: Are the Maple Leafs Begging for an Offer Sheet?
Bob McKenzie is on vacation but hasn’t ignored the Marner situation. His take is that he believes the RFAs who are unsigned now will remain unsigned until his vacation is over. Still, in one of his latest tweets, he wondered if the Maple Leafs might be wishing another team would “just get on with an offer sheet” so the organization could finally put some closure on the negotiations.
McKenzie tweeted: “As for Marner, my view from afar is that it’s probably close to or at the point where TOR hopes an offer sheet is tendered. That would allow/force closure, one way or the other. Match the offer sheet or take the compensation, but it would be done.”
McKenzie added that he believed a huge gap exists between what the Maple Leafs believe Marner is worth and what Marner or his camp believes he’s worth. McKenzie also noted that he believes negotiations will only become more difficult as time passes. The pressure of bumping into preseason will add stress to both the player and the organization.
Item Three: Was There a Marner Deal That Brendan Shanahan Refused to Approve?
A curious rumor from Sportsnet’s Satiar Shah suggests that Dubas and the Marner camp had a deal lined up, but the deal wasn’t approved by Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
Shah reports that he was told that the Maple Leafs and the Marner camp were close to a deal two weeks ago, but Shanahan didn’t approve it. If that’s true, perhaps fans need to rethink how these negotiations are going. I believe most fans, myself included, feel that the Marner camp has been tough to negotiate with and has been seeking offer sheets as a way to leverage a higher salary. In other words, the contract impasse is Marner’s fault.
This rumor suggests that the Maple Leafs are also playing hardball, making demands, and are far from patsies in these negotiations. As Shah suggests, there might be some sunshine in this cloud. Perhaps this latest news means that a contract is only a “few minor tweaks” away from something palatable for both Marner and the organization.
Item Four: Rich Clune Has Nice Things to Say About Marner’s Community Impact
In some good news, veteran Toronto Marlies forward Rich Clune, who’s played 139 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators but who more recently has been mentoring Maple Leafs prospect and roommate Jeremy Bracco with the Marlies, was interviewed by TSN at Marner’s All-Star Invitational. Clune had only good things to say about the young RFA.
Clune lauds Marner’s off-ice community impact with the Marner Assist Fund. He also talks about Marner’s charisma that draws people to him both as a person and a player. I encourage fans to watch the five-minute video by following the link provided. Most interesting to me was the respect a veteran like Clune has for the 22-year-old Marner and the work he’s accomplished at a young age.
Here’s hoping Shah’s optimism that a contract only might need a few tweaks is accurate. Those negotiations seem to be the big log in the stream that blocks other actions the team must take prior to the preseason getting underway. The first preseason game is less than two months away and work remains to