Marner to Maple Leafs – ‘Switzerland Is Beautiful in September’

In my previous life as a professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, I worked in Zürich, Switzerland. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time working with teachers from the Zürich International School. I came to like Zürich, and Switzerland in general. Everything runs on time. When the train says it’s leaving Zürich’s Wipkingen Railway Station at 8:12 pm, it leaves at 8:12 pm.

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If I were a 21-year-old with lots of spending money, Zürich would be a nice place to spend some time. The city is old, quaint, and easy to walk around. There are lots of parties, and young people seem to stroll around having fun.

The only thing I did have a hard time getting used to was how expensive it was to eat at a restaurant. A burger and a beer for three people cost about the equivalent of about $180 CAD. But, there’s no tipping.

Reports of Switzerland?

So, when I saw the report on Sportsnet titled “Agent of Maple Leafs’ Marner contacts Zürich in Swiss League,” I had two immediate thoughts.

My first thought, I admit, was a tad negative. I wondered just how much huffing and puffing Marner and his agents were capable of. And, this report, albeit from Sportsnet – a credible source – simply seemed laughable on the face of it.

Tampa Bay Lightning Mikhail Sergachev Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikhail Sergachev trips up Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

My second thought was a bit more generous. I was reminded that spending some time in Switzerland might be a really interesting thing to do if I were a young man with disposable income. Sort of like a young person who graduates from university and decides to travel the world for a year before trying to land a full-time job and find a career.

My Problem with the Marner Negotiations

The problem I’m having thinking about the Marner’s negotiations with Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas is that I’m thinking logically.

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First, I simply expect really good hockey players to want to play hockey with really good teams.

Second, I expect Marner – who, it’s been reported, dreamed of playing for the Maple Leafs when he was youngster – to want to play for the very team he dreamed of playing with.

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Third, I expect young people to hang out with their friends. And, everything I’ve seen on social media and read about in the newspapers suggests that Marner and teammates Auston Matthews and William Nylander – among others (he was just at Zach Hyman’s summer wedding after all) – seem to be good friends and like hanging out.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Fourth, I’m under the impression that living on $10 million a year or so is quite doable. And, to follow that thought – when it comes to buying young men’s toys – fancy cars, nice houses, and state-of-the-art video game equipment – there isn’t much difference really between $10 million and $11.634 million (the number on Matthews’ contract). Alas, the reports seem to suggest otherwise.

What Exactly Are the Reports?

Specifically, the reports of Marner seeking asylum by heading to Switzerland began early on Aug. 20 when Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet 650 reported that Marner’s agent had contacted the Zürich Lions of the Swiss League about the possibility of skating with them at the beginning of the season. Obviously, Marner’s agents are leaking that they’ve come to a frustrating point where they’re seeking a contingency plan if Marner and the Maple Leafs cannot negotiate a new contract before the 2019-20 season.

Maple Leafs fans will recall that the Zürich Lions are the very team Auston Matthews played for during the 2015-16 season when, in 36 games with the Lions, he had 46 points (24 goals, and 22 assists).

Soon after Dhaliwal released the report, to ensure it wasn’t made up, TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted a confirmation that supported the news. Dreger noted that: “Reports are accurate the Marner camp has had discussions with Zurich. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him go there to train in early Sept. Dubas and Ferris met last week. Positive talks, but no progress.”

Or, as Dreger added, “Marner could pay the insurance premium and go to Leafs camp without a contract. What a circus that would be. Trade interest will grow as well as the days go by.”

Dreger’s comments suggest that Marner’s agents got the spin they wanted, and once again Maple Leafs fans – who care deeply and take such reports seriously – are squirming a bit more. Is there a chance Marner might actually leave?

Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 11: Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (16) reacts to his penalty shot goal during Game 1 of the First Round between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 11, 2019, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What Are Commentators Saying?

So, we have two reports from credible sources. How are the commentators reacting?

Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston reported the news straight, noting that having Marner skate in Europe at the beginning of the season was a situation “Kyle Dubas would like to avoid, but the Maple Leafs general manager has to walk a fine line in negotiations as the team finds itself up against the salary cap.”

Pointing to Nylander’s geography before he eventually signed, we are reminded that he skated with teams in both Sweden and Austria “trying” to prepare for the season. Maple Leafs fans remember how well that worked. So, there’s no argument with Johnston that Dubas doesn’t want another situation where a key player signs late and the season gets tanked.

Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander
Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Yahoo Sports Canada commentator Kyle Cantlon was less inclined towards generosity, calling the report “hilariously predictable” and suggesting that this was a stage in the negotiations where “Ferris and his camp typically leak some nonsense a star player they represent seriously considering their options outside of the NHL.”

Cantlon called Ferris’ “game” interesting because absolutely no believes it would actually happen. He’s even less generous than I when he suggests: “Yeah, we’re all just big dumb infants who will for sure believe that an elite 21-year-old player will spend one of his prime years in Switzerland, just a season out from an almost-guaranteed NHL lockout.”

Then, he ironically reminds us that Dubas, who’s pretty astute, “will surely fall for that one, too.”

So, That’s Where It Is

So, that’s the Marner negotiation news now. For sure, I can see why hanging out in Zürich would be grand if you were a young man with lots of money. But, wait. Marner wouldn’t be collecting from a $10 million NHL contract. He might not even have an NHL paycheck at all. I hope he saved up lots from his entry-level contract from last season.

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Is it just me, or is anyone else finding it tempting to see how Marner would like spending a season with the Zürich Lions? I’m wondering if he did, would he still be represented by Darren Ferris this time next year?