Mitch Marner, like it or not if you are a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, is the tipping point for a number of other tasks the Maple Leafs (a) must do, (b) might not need to do, or (c) better do in a hurry this off-season. So much depends on what happens with Marner’s contract negotiations and right now, general manager Kyle Dubas cannot know exactly what to do.
If Marner signs an offer sheet (which means he’s choosing to play somewhere else) and the Maple Leafs decide to match, another roster player must be traded. The recent rumor is that this player might be William Nylander. If Marner signs an offer sheet and the Maple Leafs don’t match, the team’s financial life gets much easier and Dubas gets ready to use his four first-round draft picks over the next few years.
However, if Marner agrees to a contract with the Maple Leafs without the indignity of an offer sheet, Dubas must also engage in some contract-clearing to create the salary cap space to pay for that contract. Again, that probably means another roster player must be traded.
Later I’ll discuss the latest Marner rumor; however, in the meantime, there’s other news surrounding the team.
Item One: Is Babcock Gone If He Doesn’t Win?
A rumor is circulating that if head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t get past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season, he’ll be replaced. Earlier this week, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported that he “fully expects” Babcock would lose his job if the club gets bumped again in the first round.
Why this rumor make sense is that, with the exception of signing Marner, Dubas has done a remarkable job re-making the team in a series of astute off-season moves. He’s shed Patrick Marleau’s contract and he’s traded for Tyson Barrie to shore up the defense. He’s replaced Nazem Kadri with Alexander Kerfoot and he’s added Jason Spezza as an experienced and offensive center on a value contract.
In an off-season that, for some fans, seemed hopeless, the roster has been improved. Now it’s up to the team to make the most with what’s here. That’s why next season is crucial. Few teams can ice the elite forwards the Maple Leafs can. The defense, which has been the team’s Achilles heel, is improved. Given these moves, another first-round loss is unacceptable.
Item Two: Dakota Joshua Traded to St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues picked up forward Dakota Joshua in a minor trade with the Maple Leafs for future considerations. Earlier this year, the 24-year-old Michigan native completed his fourth season at Ohio State University. He was the Maple Leafs’ fifth-round (128th overall) selection during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Immediately after the trade, Joshua signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Blues.
Item Three: Marner Can’t Find What He Wants from Another Team
Perhaps the most interesting rumor floating around is that Marner isn’t finding the grass greener in another team’s backyard. However, he’s been looking over the fence. During a recent 31 Thoughts Podcast, Friedman shared how difficult Marner’s camp had found negotiating with other teams.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were one team rumored to be willing to present an offer sheet to Marner. They had both the cap space and the first-round draft picks to give up.
Friedman reported that the Blue Jackets reportedly offered Marner up to $12.5 million average annual value (AAV), but wanted him to sign for seven years. Marner’s people liked the money, but only wanted to sign for five years. At that point, the Blue Jackets balked because they weren’t willing to give up four first-round draft picks when they couldn’t guarantee Marner would stay past a five-year contract.
Specifically, Friedman said, “I think what happened was, if Columbus was going to do it, it had to be for seven years. And I think what I heard Marner was looking for, or his side was looking for, was less term than that.”
For me, these Marner negotiations are one of the most curious events that I’ve seen, havingwatched him interact with his teammates all last season, both on and off the ice. I’m certain that he wants to stay home and play for the Maple Leafs. In fact, Friedman echoed that same belief during his podcast.
If this is true, then why all this fussing around? What is Marner’s camp thinking? And, more specifically, what is Marner thinking?
It seems the Marner camp is playing both ends against the middle, but without success. From a business perspective, with every failed attempt to negotiate with another team, Marner’s leverage with Dubas and the Maple Leafs is eroding. It seems to me that leverage will shift radically to Maple Leafs management if the summer ends and training camp begins without a contract signed.
Is it true that Marner was offered more than Auston Matthews-money ($11.634 million AAV), but didn’t accept it because it was too long a term (seven years)? Is it also true that Marner’s camp believes a team would sign Marner for a five years, pay him $12-plus million per year, and also give up four first-round picks over the next four years? In such a scenario, how might that team feel to see Marner leave one year after the last draft pick they gave up had been picked by the Maple Leafs?
There’s more to come with these negotiations.
Maple Leafs fans must wait to see what happens next with the Marner negotiations. Meanwhile, there are smaller issues Dubas must attend to. Perhaps we will hear soon about Marner, but I think it might be a long summer.