Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Gardiner, Neuvirth & Hyman

In this Toronto Maple Leafs news and rumors post, I have pulled together some of the recent stories that are surrounding the team. Things sort of seemed to be on hold this past week, with no indication of whether Marner would sign or not in the near future.

Item One: Why Are Other RFAs Waiting for Marner to Sign?

It looks as if Mitch Marner might have to be the first restricted free agent (RFA) to sign a contract. A reported rumor suggests that other RFAs were waiting for Marner to sign before they did, simply because agents understand that Marner is their most advantageous comparable as they seek to negotiate for their own RFAs.

Related: NHL Rumors: Gardiner, Gusev, Maple Leafs, Rangers, More

That’s because the Maple Leafs have one of the highest current salary structures in the NHL. Because they do, star players on the Maple Leafs set the bar for players on all other teams.

It seems clear that all other unsigned RFAs will ink contracts lower than Marner’s. But it’s completely in the dark when he will sign or how much he will sign for. Still, speculation is that he might sign for somewhere around $11 million, which boosts the value of other unsigned RFAs. That means that, until Marner signs, other RFAs are simply willing to allow this process to be as slow as it needs to be.

Marner scored 94 points in 82 games last year, and he’s arguably the most solid RFA in this offseason’s crop. That means his contract would likely become the ceiling for the market. Still, that doesn’t mean others weren’t close to his last season’s production. Specifically, Mikko Rantanen scored 87 points in 74 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche and Brayden Point scored 92 points in 79 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

What makes Marner’s negotiations with the Maple Leafs so difficult is the speculation that his camp has completely ignored what might typically have been seen as normal comparisons. Instead of comparing himself to anyone else in his ballpark (another winger who scores around 90 points), other hockey commentators have speculated that his camp has chosen to compare Marner’s value with teammate Auston Matthews. Hence, that’s why his salary demand is closer to $11.5 million that to $9.5 million.

Related: Mitch Marner Is Pacing the Maple Leafs at Both Ends of the Ice

What that might mean for signing this year’s crop of RFAs is anyone’s guess. Even the Vancouver Canucks Brock Boeser seems far away from a contract. He’s a capable player, but his 56 points (26 goals and 30 assists) are a far cry from Marner’s production. If no one if the group of RFAs signs because they’re waiting for Marner, is there a chance many of these negotiations will continue into the regular season, just as William Nylander’s negotiations did last season? If that’s the case, it will be an interesting beginning tot he season, once again.

Item Two: Has Jake Gardiner Found a Team?

Michael Russo suggested in a tweet that Jake Gardiner might have a “handshake deal” with an NHL team and is merely waiting to sign his deal. It wasn’t the offseason Gardiner might have hoped for, probably because his nagging back injury kept him from performing at his best last season. However, unless his back never heals, he’s going to be a strong pick-up for a team who needs a puck-moving defenseman.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Gardiner with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s no word on what team that might be; however, the rumor shared on the Russo-Souhan Show is that a deal is on the table but the team in question has to move a higher-priced defenseman to make that happen.

Speculation has been that the Buffalo Sabres were interested in moving Rasmus Ristolainen. Another rumor might be the New York Rangers, which makes sense after it was reported on July 31 that the Rangers have bought out offensive-defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a poor last season with only 28 points.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Sparks, Kadri, Marner, Woll, Gardiner

Although Shattenkirk tore his meniscus (a knee injury) during the 2017-18 season, he played 73 games last season on a poor team. Partly his knee injury bothered him, but partly the Rangers were awful. Hmmm – might he look good in the blue and white? The Edmonton Oilers were already rumoured to be interested. It’s likely Shattenkirk, who’s a class act and who has been a good NHL player, will be picked up by a team seeking a third pairing on its defense.

Item Three: Will Michal Neuvirth Play 35 Games Next Season?

The Leafs Nation’s Rachel Doerrie wrote a thoughtful piece about the signing of Michal Neuvirth and his potential impact on number one goalie Frederik Andersen’s playing time next season. Doerrie suggests that Neuvirth is a definite upgrade on the Maple Leafs back-up goalie situation and should allow Andersen to have more rest. She also pointed out that, when goalie tandems shared the load more equally (specifically she noted the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak), they did better during the postseason.

New Maple Leafs Goalie Michal Neuvirth (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

She believed Andersen should be playing less than 50 games during the regular season and should be resting for the postseason grind. Neuvirth, when he has played 25-30 games during his career, averaged about a .920 save percentage during those seasons.

During a recent post, I commented that Andersen was looking forward to seeing how the 31-year-old Czech Neuvirth would do this season. It sounds as if he, too, is excited to have a new partner.

Item Four: How’s Zach Hyman Recovering from ACL Surgery?

Pro Hockey Rumors reported that Maple Leafs physical winger Zach Hyman believes his recovery from ACL (the anterior cruciate ligament that stabilizes the knee) surgery is going well. However, he’s uncertain if he’ll be ready to begin playing during training camp.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Barrie, Marner Trade Scenario, Nylander

There are also two other reasons why the Maple Leafs might be careful with Hyman. First, it’s simply wise to ensure an injured player is ready to play full-speed. His surgery was in April, and the typical recovery time for such surgery is six months, which is October. No one wants to push an injury. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Toronto Maple Leaf Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Second, there’s speculation that Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has a salary-cap-regulations “plan” cooked up that, if Hyman and Travis Dermott were placed on injured reserve at the start of the season, it would help to create salary-cap space so that Marner might sign.

What’s Next?

Things around the Maple Leafs and the NHL seem locked into a sort of dull hum, with so many RFAs unsigned. If the speculation is correct that Marner is the tipping point, that dull hum might be going on for the foreseeable future. I have seen or heard nothing that hints to me that the Marner negotiations are close to concluded.