After the deafening silence that has been surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs negotiations with their restricted free agent Mitch Marner, during the past three days, a number of rumors have surfaced. And, if these rumors are to be trusted, the news isn’t good.
Marner’s agents and general manager Kyle Dubas seem to be at an impasse. The two sides simply cannot find common ground.
The usually discreet and outwardly optimistic Dubas blinked in public on Saturday, and you don’t have to read too carefully between the lines to see that he’s becoming increasingly frustrated with the “slog” that attends these negotiations.
During an interview on TSN, Dubas noted:
“It’s just really the status quo at this point. And I think the reality is, it’s the status quo with all these types of players throughout the league. There doesn’t seem to be anything really transpiring, and as it gets into August, it’s kind of into a bit of a slog where there doesn’t seem to be any real progress, you don’t even hear of any progress in any of the other situations.”
Obviously, that’s true. Big-name RFAs like Patrik Laine, Brayden Point, Mikko Rantanen, and Brock Boeser remain unsigned. However, there’s some irony in Dubas’ comments because, as reported late last week and everyone knows, the rest of the NHL is clearly waiting to see what the numbers on Marner’s contract will be.
Marner is the measuring stick, all eyes are on his negotiations, and no other RFA seems ready to move until Marner’s contract showdown has ended. It’s bigger than simply Toronto; the impact of Marner’s and Dubas’ negotiations is being felt league-wide.
What the Rumors Suggest
Late last week, James Mirtle of The Athletic wrote that Marner wasn’t interested in a long-term contract extension with the Maple Leafs. This isn’t news really because, given the stance Marner’s agents have taken since the negotiations began, most commentators believed Marner would seek the shortest-term deal possible to become an unrestricted free agent at the earliest time possible.
And, if Marner signed a long-term contract with the Maple Leafs, he would increase the time before he could become an unrestricted free agent. (from ‘Mirtle: Where the Mitch Marner negotiations are at – and why they’re holding up so many other RFAs’ – James Mirtle – The Athletic – 8/2/2019)
Toronto, Mirtle wrote, offered “just under $9-million to roughly $11-million per season, depending on the term.” Most believe Dubas offered Marner more than $10 million per season if he signed an eight-year contract. However, that didn’t suit Marner’s agents, and they responded by asking for three years at an average of $10 million per season.
If that contract were signed, and it seems foolish for the Maple Leafs to accept such terms, that would make it the richest bridge contract in NHL history by a huge margin. The issue is that, as has been reported often, Marner’s agents simply are only willing to compare Marner’s contract with the contract already signed by teammate Auston Matthews (five years at $11.634 million).
Thus, Matthews’ contract is a sticking point. Another sticking point is that Dubas doesn’t want to sign Marner to a five-year contract because Matthews and William Nylander are signed already for five years. If Marner also signed a five-year deal, then Matthews, Nylander, and Marner would all become UFAs during the same offseason. So, if this offseason seems difficult, wait six years. It would be Armageddon.
Where Things Stand
Here’s where the rumors suggest things stand. Marner’s camp isn’t interested in an eight-year contract, and Dubas won’t sign Marner to a one or two-year contract because those are simply too short. A three-year, bridge deal at $10 million is asking for the moon. It would seem insane for any general manager, regardless of how much his team hoped to keep a player, to sign that sort of a contract. It would literally break the Maple Leafs salary-cap bank this coming season and would spell disaster to the financial health of the team in the long-term.
If Marner signed a four-year contract, he’d immediately become an unrestricted free agent when that contract expired. So, as Mirtle suggested, there are three options for the Maple Leafs: a three-year, a six-year, or a seven-year deal. It is simply impossible to say where these negotiations might go next.
When the offseason began, Dubas had two tasks. Task one, he needed to clear salary-cap space to find room to sign Marner. Task two, he had to sign Marner. If you’re like me, you might have guessed that task one would be
Yet, Dubas did just that. The Maple Leafs have the salary-cap space to sign Marner to what seems like a reasonable and fair contract. Suddenly task two is starting to seem the most difficult, if not almost impossible.
As I have watched the offseason unfold, I have been impressed with Dubas’ ability to make something from what seemed like nothing. I’m also impressed with the vigor by which Dubas has pursued Marner. It seems to me that Dubas has shown he wants Marner to be a Maple Leafs player more than Marner seems to want to stay in Toronto.
Will the Impasse Continue?
If I were Dubas, I might have blinked long ago. I wonder if Dubas would ever consider letting Marner stay unsigned? Obviously, the Maple Leafs would lose Marner’s services for a season. Also obvious, Marner wouldn’t be able to play NHL hockey or collect an NHL check.
However, my understanding is that, if Marner didn’t sign, he’d enter next offseason with the same contract status he has now. He’d be an unsigned RFA whose rights belonged to the Maple Leafs.
But that would never happen, would it?