The frustration of the Toronto Maple Leafs fans seems to have become evident against last season’s leading scorer and restricted free agent Mitch Marner, who has not yet signed with the team. In my post on Sept. 1, exploring the belief that it might be time to sit Marner for a season if a negotiated contract could not be reached, I was surprised how great the number of people who responded who clearly did not side with Marner.
Some who were negative believed his father had influenced him poorly; some believed it was his agent Darren Ferris. Some simply believed he was greedy. Typical of what fans said, one noted that if a final deal couldn’t be met, a trade should be sought. If no trade could be facilitated, then sitting him out was the only option. This fan noted that, while Marner was fantastic, John Tavares has made many players have career years.
Actually, given the adoration that Marner seemed to carry from Maple Leafs fans last season, I was surprised by the support there was for taking a hard negotiating stance with him. In my own memory, even last season during the protracted William Nylander contract negotiations, Nylander held the fans’ support until after he had signed and it became clear he was going to have a very poor season. In my memory, the fans are not so longsuffering with Marner.
In this post, I want to keep up with recent news and rumors about the Marner contract negotiations as well as track what other hockey commentators and players are saying about what happening.
Item One: Could Marner Be Traded?
Some recent thoughts and rumors seem to have taken a more pessimistic view of the contract situation and suggested that, given the deep divide between general manager Kyle Dubas’ contract offers and the response by Marner’s agent Ferris, perhaps the only way forward for the Maple Leafs would be to bite the bullet and trade their reluctant-to-sign young winger.
Considering that view, Dave Stevenson of Fansided wrote a thoughtful post speculating what teams might be interested and also able to engage in a trade for Marner. He believed that, should trading be considered, the other team would have to come up with a top-four defenseman and a forward who would likely score 30 goals.
Related: Revisiting the Brayden Schenn Trade
He named three teams who might be interested. These were the Philadelphia Flyers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Because the Blue Jackets seem too unlikely a trade partner, I want to review what Stevenson noted about the Flyers and the Devils.
Team One: Philadelphia Flyers
Stevenson suggests that the Flyers were one of the few teams who would be able to offer good trade value for Marner; and, if they added him to their top-six, they could become Stanley Cup contenders. Perhaps that’s a bit optimistic for the Flyers; however, Marner would give the Flyers (or really, let’s not kid ourselves, almost any team) a talented forward who could potentially lead the team to the playoffs. Plus, the Flyers have the salary-cap space needed to sign Marner to the contract he stridently desires.
Who would the Flyers like give up? Certainly, star defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere would have to be part of the package. He’s a very strong player and would give the Maple Leafs a solid first- or second-pairing defender. Gostisbehere is left-handed, but often plays on the right side. He was mentioned as a possibility to come to the team at least season’s trade deadline, when Dubas traded for Jake Muzzin.
Stevenson then suggests the Maple Leafs might take the young, promising forward Travis Konecny. Although similar to Marner in that he’s a restricted free agent, he’d come on a much lower contract than Marner. If so, might that allow the Maple Leafs to offer unsigned defenseman Jake Gardiner a satisfactory contract?
Konecny is a right-winger from down the road in London, Ontario, and has scored 24 goals each of the last two seasons. However, the question is how he might produce if he were on a line with Auston Matthews or John Tavares. I’m guessing he might easily become a 30-goal scorer.
As tough as it would be to trade Marner, such a trade would be good for the Maple Leafs, especially if the Flyers tossed in a couple of draft picks.
Team Two: New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are improving; however, other than Taylor Hall, the team lacks elite talent. Ray Shero might be just the kind of general manager who’d be willing to go for broke on a Marner deal. Hall on the left-wing and Marner on the right-wing would be strong line.
If Marner could be added to the Devils roster, that might lift the team to a postseason berth. Then, as the St. Louis Blues proved last season, who knows what could happen? The Devils have the salary-cap space to both sign Marner long-term and also re-sign Hall, who will become a free agent after the 2019-20 season.
As Stevenson suggests, the Maple Leafs would have to have defenseman Damon Severson back in a trade, but now that the Devils have P.K. Subban, they might be willing to deal. Stevenson then suggests that the Devils would also include Kyle Palmieri, who’s averaged almost 27 goals per season over the last four playing with talent much inferior to the Maple Leafs could ice.
The Devils could probably also be enticed to include draft picks in a deal, and they are loaded there. Over the next three NHL Entry Drafts, the Devils have a total of 20 draft picks.
Item Two: Will Marner Be Forced to Sign a Bridge Deal?
Late last week, the Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported that he believed Marner and the Maple Leafs would eventually be forced to agree on a two-year or a three-year bridge deal because the sides were too far apart on a longer-term deal.
Fox also reported that he believed Marner’s agent Ferris would be happy enough to have his client miss the team’s training camp because he thought it would be a way to put more pressure on Dubas to sign Marner.
Item Three: Connor McDavid Says He’d Never Sign a Bridge Deal
Speaking of bridge deals, when media interviewed Edmonton Oilers’ star Connor McDavid last week at the BioSteel Camp, Luke Fox of Sportsnet, who attended the McDavid media event, tweeted McDavid’s admission that he would never consider a bridge deal or pushing his signing this late into the offseason when he was a restricted free agent. He’d simply hate to risk missing a training camp.
It’s an interesting comment, given the Maple Leafs recent experiences with restricted free agents. I wish McDavid would’ve sent Nylander a memo last season and Marner one this season.
There’s still team business to engage and a number of former Maple Leafs players are still in limbo. Being a fan, I’m anxious to see where Gardiner lands and if Marleau can find a team who wants his services. Then, like everyone else, I’m waiting for something to happen with Marner.