Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Andersen, New Captain, Matthews

There’s speculation about Mitch Marner’s continuing negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but different hockey insiders are offering different thoughts about what might happen. This is a crucial week, because training camp starts on Friday.

As well, there’s been some speculation about whether the Maple Leafs would name a captain this season or would allow head coach Mike Babcock to continue to be both the coach and de facto team captain. Finally, Auston Matthews fired back at speculation that he would leave Toronto at the end of his current contract.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, Centennial Classic (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

In this post, I want to bring Maple Leafs fans up-to-date on these news pieces and rumors.

Item One: A Maple Leafs and Marner Update

During a recent session of Sportsnet 960’s Maple Leafs Hot Stove, Elliotte Friedman confirmed that he believed Marner and the Maple Leafs were not close to reaching a contractual agreement, although Marner was offered a three-year contract. Friedman explained that the problem with a three-year contract was that Marner’s side wanted “really big numbers,” which would necessitate the Maple Leafs then having Marner move right into a $10 million qualifying offer and then unrestricted free agency. That sort of contract makes most teams shudder.

Related: Maple Leafs Should Let Marner Sit for the Season

However, the Maple Leafs seem more willing than most teams to be a trendsetter when it comes to how the team offers contracts. The five-year contract the organization signed with Matthews allows him to walk into unrestricted free agency in 2024. Most teams would have never negotiated that kind of a contract.

On TSN 1050, Pierre LeBrun explained why teams were upset with the Maple Leafs: “If you want to talk about why teams are mad at Toronto, they hate the five-year precedent. They either want to go long or short, but not five.”

LeBrun, however, didn’t think the Marner vs. the Maple Leafs negotiations were about the term. He noted, “The two sides have talked about all kinds of different years and both sides would do a three-year deal. But we know why they haven’t signed: they can’t agree on money.”

Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs’ (L-R) Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Daren Dreger added his thoughts to this asynchronous conversation. The TSN Hockey Insider reported on Monday that, barring a change in his contract negotiations with the Maple Leafs, he’s convinced Marner will fly to Switzerland later this month to train with the Zurich Lions.

Dreger noted, “If Toronto and the Marner camp can’t come to terms before the start of the regular season or training camp, and training camp as we know is looming this week, then he’s got to decide, is he going over to Europe and he is going to continue to skate in Zurich, Switzerland?”

Dreger noted that “unless something changes and a lot can change very quickly as I keep suggesting here, but unless something changes, I believe his plan is to go to Switzerland maybe the third week of this month.”

Related: Auston Matthews Content to Stay Out of Marner Contract Talks

Item Two: Frederik Andersen Names Area of Team’s Biggest Growth

Last week Frederik Andersen was asked the question: “In which area do you see the most improvement from September of 2018?” His answer was interesting.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Frederik Andersen
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Slocum)

He responded, “Mostly off the ice.” Andersen added, “The leadership of the group that’s been here for a while now has been growing a bit.”­ Although his answer was vague and could be interpreted a number of different ways, I’m sensing that he means that a core of players is growing that is ready to actively engage in more formal leadership – as in naming a captain.

Item Three: Choices for Captain

Speaking about a team captain, on Sept. 9, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, in a wide-ranging post about a number of different topics, noted some of the Maple Leafs best choices for captain.

As he sees it, now that the that team has shed the last remnants of the old guard (namely, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner), the team’s core now revolves around one goalie (Andersen), one defenseman (Morgan Rielly), and seven forwards, who is each capable of 20 goals (John Tavares, Matthews, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Zach Hyman, and Marner if he signs).

Of those choices, Rielly is the longest-serving; Tavares is the most accomplished and experienced; and, Matthews is the highest paid, with the “greatest ceiling.” Fox sees these as the three finalists for the honor of becoming the Maple Leafs captain.

Toronto Maple Leafs John Tavares Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares runs into Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Of these great players, all of them are in their prime and all of them are “devoted to their craft and the organization.” Fox noted that each player goes about his business a little differently, and he noted only one deficiency in the group. Together, they only have one NHL playoff series victory.

Item Four: Matthews Is Upset About the Idea He’ll Move South After His Contract

Matthews let it be known that he was unimpressed by the assertion he’d leave the Maple Leafs to play in the United States as soon as his current five-year contract expired. Last week, former Maple Leafs (and other NHL organizations) executive Brian Burke announced on Sportsnet 590 The FAN that he’d “bet a sizeable amount of money” Matthews would head South after his contract runs out. The reason? He’d pay cheaper taxes in the United States.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Top 2019-20 Career-Season Candidates

“We haven’t even started my first year (on the new contract) and then this?” Matthews retorted last Friday. He chalked it up to not much going on in August so “why not just spark up a controversy?”

Matthews has made no bones about hoping his hometown Arizona Coyotes are successful, so perhaps people add one and one and get three. He also suggested that Burke was engaging in clickbait, noting that, “it creates controversy and will get you a lot of clicks.”

Ottawa Senators Ben Harpur Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Former Ottawa Senators defenceman Ben Harpur and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Although Matthews said specifically “it’s not really something that bothers me,” that he took the time to respond suggests the opposite. It either does bother him, or he knows that Maple Leafs fans don’t need more controversy on top of Marner’s challenging holdout.

Matthews’ final comment was on point: “I love playing in Toronto. It’s unbelievable. It’s the best city to play in, in the NHL. Our fans are amazing. The history of the organization is incredible.”

Memo to Marner

You know your friend is right.