As I reported in my latest post, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mitch Marner saga took a new turn on Aug. 20 when the Marner camp leaked news that they had contacted the Zurich Lions in Switzerland seeking a team Marner might skate with if his contract wasn’t completed by the beginning of the Maple Leafs training camp, which is less than a month away.
Although most commentators believe this news represents a sort of shameless posturing by Marner’s agent Darren Ferris made even more brazen because, in the past, Ferris has threatened this same tactic with his star clients but has never actually used it. No sane Maple Leafs fan should give it much of a thought really, yet it has stirred some media rumbling.
In this post, I want to bring readers up-to-date on this rumor and share some of the other spin-offs about the Marner
Item One: Elliotte Friedman’s Take on the Marner-to-Switzerland News
On Aug. 21, Elliotte Friedman was interviewed on the Good Show and spoke at length about the Mitch Marner contract situation. When asked if he was surprised with the news that Marner’s group had contacted a team in Switzerland about joining them in September, he noted that he wasn’t. Again, that’s because it isn’t a new tactic for Marner’s agent Ferris.
For Friedman, the bigger problem and what makes the situation so frustrating for both the player and the organization was that, in his words, these negotiations have no deadline.
Furthermore, because Marner is such a big name on a Canadian team (Patrik Laine faces a similar situation with the Winnipeg Jets), the “slightest morsel that gets out is a gong show because people are just craving any kind of news … and (the news) that gets out there turns into craziness.”
When asked if he believed Marner and Dubas were close to inking a deal, Friedman noted that what fascinates him “is that I’ve had people tell me they don’t think they’re really that far off on a short-term deal. I’ve had other people telling me the team is really starting to get fed up with the way this is going.”
Perhaps Friedman is right about the Maple Leafs organization getting “fed up.” From what I’m reading in responses to posts I’ve written and comments I’ve read on other commentators’ posts is that Maple Leafs fans are getting fed up. Marner is no longer the golden boy in every Maple Leafs fan’s eyes.
Item Two: What Happens if Marner Plays in Switzerland?
As Friedman pointed out, and has been echoed by other commentators, it’s likely that Marner actually heading off to Switzerland is a bit of a stretch. However, what would happen if Marner actually went?
That question was answered by the Editor in Leaf’s Jeff Borsuk in his Aug. 21 post. Borsuk reviewed Article 13, subsection 23 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states:
“In the event a professional or former professional Player plays in a league outside North America after the start of the NHL Regular Season, other than on Loan from his Club, he may thereafter play in the NHL during that Playing Season (including Playoffs) only if he has first either cleared or been obtained via Waivers. For the balance of the Playing Season, any such Player who has been obtained via Waivers may be Traded or Loaned only after again clearing Waivers or through Waiver claim. This section shall not apply to a Player on the Reserve List or Restricted Free Agent List of an NHL Club with whom the Player is signing an NHL SPC or is party to an existing SPC with such NHL Club.”
In other words, if Marner actually played in Europe during any part of the 2019-20 season, he’d be in the same situation – more or less – than he was during this offseason. I suggest “more or less” because one never can know what might happen in hockey. When he returned after his year, the Maple Leafs would still hold his rights and he’d still have to negotiate a contract with them.
However, depending upon what happened during the 2019-20 season, he might have more or less leverage in those contract negotiations. Consider the following scenarios.
Scenario One: Marner Gets Injured
Hockey can be a dangerous game – as former Maple Leafs player David Clarkson knows. Say Marner and the Maple Leafs passed the contract deadline and Marner went to play somewhere else. Then, and it might happen, what if he were injured in Europe? He might be out of hockey forever without ever having signed a single $1 million contract.
If he had signed a contract with the Maple Leafs this offseason and were injured and out of hockey, the Maple Leafs would be obligated to pay him – injured or not – for the length of that contract. That’s the case for Nathan Horton, who signed a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013 for $37.1 million ($5.3 million AAV), was hurt that same year, and hasn’t played since. He’s still being paid through this season.
If Marner were injured playing for another team this season, sadly for him the Maple Leafs would be under no obligation to re-sign him to any contract. Call me pragmatic, but that seems like a huge risk for a young star.
Scenario Two: The Maple Leafs Win the Stanley Cup
What if, for example, the Maple Leafs pulled together as a team and won their first Stanley Cup since 1967? Toronto would go wild, have a parade and a party that would make the Raptors look tame, and would celebrate long into the offseason. That event would certainly erode Marner’s marginal utility, and his leverage to sign a contract, with the Maple Leafs. Right now, the organization believes it needs Marner to win. That might not be the case should the team do very well without him.
Scenario Three: The Maple Leafs Tank During the 2019-20 Season
What if the Maple Leafs struggle to win without Marner? Or, what if they make the playoffs but suffer another devastating round one ousting at the hands of the Boston Bruins? In that scenario, Marner could do very well negotiating a new contract during the next offseason. His negotiating position would gain leverage, and he would probably be in line for a bigger raise with the Maple Leafs.
Obviously, all this is speculation. But one thing we do know. Marner’s rights would still belong to the Maple Leafs and, when he returned to the NHL, the bargaining process would start over again next offseason with the same players.
Item Three: Why Wouldn’t Marner Go to Russia?
After the leak that Marner’s agents had contacted a team in Switzerland, everyone seems to be getting into the act. Now Igor Eronko of Sports-Express reminds us all that, because Marner’s rights were never drafted in the KHL, he could potentially sign with any team he wants to there.
So the obvious question
There’s no link at all that I know of between Marner and the KHL right now, but who would be surprised if we heard tomorrow that Marner’s agents had a call into Lativa’s Dinamo Riga?
For a few weeks now, the answer to the question “what’s next?” has been “not much.” That said, the news is starting to pick up around Marner and the team. As Friedman noted, the smallest morsel of news turns into craziness. At this point, who can tell what craziness will come in tomorrow’s news?