Maple Leafs vs. Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner will soon be very rich. There are two ways Marner’s contract negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs can go. Either the club will sign him to a mega-contract, or Marner will sign with another team.

Related: Why the Maple Leafs Will Be Forced to Trade Marner

Either way, big money will soon change hands. As I watch this unfold, I cannot help but believe there will be costs to his big payday.

Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner reacts to his penalty shot goal during Game 1 of the Maple Leafs’ first round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Marner certainly won’t lose money. His contract should – unless he’s incredibly foolish – set him up for life. He’ll make north of $10 million AAV. To put that into perspective, the average medical doctor in Canada makes less than $330,000 per year. Not counting inflation, it would take 30 years for a doctor to make $10 million. That’s a pretty rarified salary for a 22-year-old.

What’s Happening with Marner’s Contract Negotiations?

The time is moving closer to July 1, when Marner, a restricted free agent, can entertain offer sheets from other clubs. Right now, the path Marner’s camp seems to be following is rocky, because it brings him into direct conflict with Maple Leafs management and, perhaps, his teammates.

Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

On June 24, Brian Burke noted that the Maple Leafs have made a “very significant offer” of an eight-year term for $10 million AAV. Marner’s agents might advise him to accept such an offer, but they might also reject it. Current speculation is that Marner’s camp will talk with other teams in the week prior to July 1, with the possibility of an offer sheet coming after July 1.

Offer Sheets Are Playing with Fire

Nothing I have seen suggests that Marner is interested in playing anywhere other than in Toronto, even though his camp is speculated to be shopping for offer sheets. Certainly, Marner’s agent has not denied that speculation.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Johnsson, Kapanen, Marner, More

Dubas must believe an offer sheet is possible. Anticipating that possibility, at the Vancouver NHL Entry Draft, he announced that if Marner signed an offer sheet the team would have to consider its best interests in their response.

Dubas’ announcement revised an earlier statement that he would match any offer made (a warning to other teams not to bother). Instead, he called Marner’s bluff. If Marner signed an offer sheet, the team wouldn’t necessarily match it (a warning to Marner that he might no longer be a Maple Leaf). Instead, Dubas would have to look at the team’s draft-pick compensation (four first-rounders).

I think that, unless Marner is actually willing to play somewhere else, he should be careful. After the William Nylander affair last season, Dubas can’t appreciate feeling pushed around. Plus, there’s no doubt that – as creative and intelligent as he is – he must be taxed by the decisions the salary cap has placed on his ability to build his team.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs Draft
Kyle Dubas (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dubas has drawn a line in the sand. Marner’s camp can’t set all the rules of the negotiations. The Maple Leafs also have choices and, although these choices might not be their preference, they will think business if they have to. In other words, if Marner’s team is threatening to leave Toronto for greener pastures, Marner should really be ready to leave. And, for all we know, Marner might not feel valued enough in Toronto to want to stay.

There Will Be Fallout if Marner Signs a Big Contract

However, having watched Marner all season with his teammates, on and off the ice, I don’t think Marner wants to leave. Nor do I want him to. I’ve been on record as saying that I believe Marner is the best Maple Leafs player and that the team should sign him and make him captain. He deserves a good payday. That said, I think that payday has attendant complications.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Shanahan, Marner, Lindgren, Worst Trade

Marner will be set for life financially. But, he’ll lose in other ways that matter to professional athletes. First, his contract will erode his team of the resources it needs to compete. He would obviously be there, but others would be gone.

Second, as Chris Johnston stated in his podcast with Elliotte Friedman, “There could be some bad feelings. It could result in other players needing to be traded.” About who might be traded, Johnston added, “It could be another player that is popular among the team. Part of being a professional and being paid this money is you have to work through issues that arise like this, but I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that everyone is going to be thinking, ‘Oh, great. Good for you Mitch.’”

Tavares Marner Hyman

Mitch Marner with teammates (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Johnston’s point in the podcast is that Marner might expect fallout. Mentor and friend Patrick Marleau already was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes to free up money used to “tentatively” sign other RFAs Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen.

But losing Marleau’s contract won’t be enough to sign Marner. Even trading Nikita Zaitsev at $4.5 million and letting Jake Gardiner walk (just over $4 million last season) won’t do it. Trading Connor Brown’s salary at $2.1 million won’t even be enough. Will other teammates who haven’t been named yet also be traded?

Team Goals vs. Individual Goals

Hockey players are professional, but they’re also humans. Through the course of on-ice battles, they build strong relationships. They take care of teammates, as Nazem Kadri was suspended for doing so against the Boston Bruins. That’s the kinship of a team.

Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri
Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri looks up from the ice as he is attended to by a trainer. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

What happens if Kadri’s traded so Marner can sign? Obviously, John Tavares and Austin Matthews already have big contracts; however, fortunately for them, they’re not in the spotlight. Marner is.

I’m not begrudging Marner his big paycheck. That’s the business of hockey. As a teacher, I never turned down a raise either.

How Can Marner Win this Deal?

Marner can “win” this negotiation by taking a home-team discount. Instead of making his $11 million in salary, sign a $10 million contract and then add to your salary with endorsements. You’ll be a hero. Cash in.

An April 2019 tweet noted that Marner’s product endorsements already included GoodFood, Intact, Red Bull, Chevrolet, Beats by Dre, Call of Duty, Bulova, American Express, True Hockey. Obviously, the list is growing as the recent Apple ad below suggests.

YouTube player

Elliotte Friedman offered some advice to Marner from his own life’s experience in a recent podcast. He said, “You need someone in your life to say, ‘Are you sure?’ These are life decisions … ‘Are you freaking sure this is what you want to do?’ I hope Mitch Marner has someone in his circle that can say to him, ‘Are you sure?’”

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kyle Dubas Facing First Real Test as GM

Friedman then added that Marner “has a chance to be the greatest Toronto-born Maple Leaf ever, which is no small thing. I hope Mitch Marner has someone in his life telling him, ‘Make sure you go down the path that you — not someone else — wants you to go on.’”

What’s Next?

The next week will be telling. I think I reflect the hopes of most Maple Leafs fans that Marner signs soon and allows Dubas to start building the team. If Marner wants to leave, I wish him well. He’s a great young player.

However, if he really wants to stay, I hope he doesn’t let his camp convince him otherwise.