Despite his current situation, Mitch Marner was arguably the Toronto Maple Leafs most popular player last season. He had the complete package. He is a young, good looking, highly skilled, hometown player and he was playing on a good team.
He posted a career-high 26 goals and 68 assists for 94 points in 2018-19. Marner lead the team in points, putting him in a position to cash in on a new contract this offseason. Before that happens, we will analyze his career-year and assign him a grade.
A Match Made in Heaven
When the Maple Leafs made their pitch to John Tavares, Marner was involved in the recruitment process. He was featured in a video presented to Tavares and the Maple Leafs brass ensured him that Marner would be on his line.
The pitch evidently worked as Tavares signed with Toronto. Immediately, fans began to salivate at the thought of Tavares and Marner on the same line. Sure enough, they began the season together.
They fit like a glove. For the first time in either player’s career, they had found their match made in Heaven. Tavares had not played with a play-making winger and Marner had not been paired with a goal-scoring centre. The pairing paid dividends as both players had career-years.
Prior to last season, Marner’s career-high stood at 47 assists. He spent his previous two seasons playing beside Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, and while they made a solid combination, Tavares was a significant step up.
Marner was the playmaker of the team last season. His 68 assists helped Tavares score a career-high 47 goals, while simultaneously helping his other teammates. He played on the first power play unit with Auston Matthews, Tavares, Kadri and Morgan Reilly where he picked up 21 points.
While Marner’s play was commendable, his camp created a few distractions off the ice. Both his agent Darren Ferris and his father Paul Marner took to the media to voice their displeasure with the Maple Leafs during the season.
Prior to the season’s start, Ferris said that the Marner camp would not negotiate a new contract during the regular season to avoid distracting him from the game. Understandable – some players choose not to focus on contracts while playing. Where things fail to add up is when Ferris went to the media to blast Toronto for low-balling his client.
Not negotiating a contract extension during the season is fair, but Marner’s camp claimed that they made the choice so he could focus on hockey. By alerting the media that they were unhappy with the Leafs’ handling of Marner’s situation, they shifted focus away from the game. Marner’s agent making such comments against the Maple Leafs did not go over well.
Quotes from Paul Marner surfaced during the season regarding a number of ways he felt his son had been mistreated by Toronto and the media. Among his complaints were that Mitch did not receive enough recognition as a potential captain and he was not in the conversation as a top draft selection (he was drafted fourth overall in 2015).
It is not entirely fair to hold Mitch Marner responsible for his father’s comments, but it appeared that he did not give his dad a call afterwards as Paul was back in the public eye days later trying to rationalize his prior comments. The fans felt it unnecessary, especially with Mitch being as beloved as he was.
There was always something going on in Marner’s periphery in 2018-19. Despite not wanting to be distracted from hockey, members of his camp kept taking it upon themselves to shine a spotlight on him. A spotlight that could have been better aimed at his impressive stats.
Overall Grade: A-
Having such a great season has put Marner in a position to cash in this summer. While he may be approaching a William Nylander-esque holdout, in a vacuum he just had a stellar season.
If he is able to come toterms on a contract extension before the start of the 2019-20 season, he could easily have another career-year. Being another year older, stronger and more experienced would put Marner in a great position to succeed next season.
By all accounts, he looks to be Tavares’ partner for the long-haul; a recipe that should create success for years. If his 2018-19 season proved anything, it’s that to be successful in the future all Marner needs to do is show up.