Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner, Matthews, Confusion

The Mitch Marner negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs have frustrated fans and stumped hockey insiders and commentators. Why is the Marner camp so intransigent about its demands? Can the standoff ever be resolved?

Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

In this post, I will try to bring fans up to speed with
some of the thoughts about Marner and speculation about how the Marner
negotiations might impact other players on the team – specifically teammate
Auston Matthews.

Item One: Bob McKenzie on Marner’s Contract Offers

TSN’s hockey commentator Bob McKenzie is scratching his head about the continuing Marner negotiations. He’s as confused as the rest of us, and it doesn’t take much to read that in his twitter posts.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner Trades, Contract & McDavid Report

For example, in one tweet on Sept. 11, he noted first that the Maple Leafs have made seven- and eight-year offers of about $11 million average annual value (AAV). However, because those offers are lower than the contract Matthews signed for and for a longer term, they haven’t been palatable to Marner’s team.

His second tweet pondered how a solution might be reached, and he noted in the end that he didn’t think it could. He tweeted that the logical solution would be a three-year bridge. However, Marner wants an AAV in the $9-10 million range, with a substantially higher third-year payout that would make the resulting qualifying offer immense.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

To that, McKenzie noted that Toronto would have no incentive to sign it because it was such a ridiculous (my word, not his) contract. He landed on it was “hard to see the way to a settlement…”

Maple Leafs fans I have spoken to are becoming more and more upset with Marner as his team negotiates this contract. I believe they are beginning to feel his team is needlessly dragging out the negotiations. In fact, a live poll I watched on Sportsnet TV on Wednesday evening showed that fans who voted were largely in favor of the Maple Leafs’ position (30% for Marner, 70% for the Maple Leafs when I watched it). One fan I talked to saw him asking for more money than anyone else on the team and it didn’t seem fair.

For myself, I don’t think the solution is that difficult. As I wrote earlier in another post, I think the Maple Leafs should make a fair final offer and then – if Marner chooses not to sign it – let him play in Switzerland if he wishes. It would certainly be short-term pain, but it might also spell long-term gain for the team’s future negotiations with other players.

Item Two: Proposed Solution to the Marner Dilemma

McKenzie is not the only hockey commentator confused by the Marner negotiations. In his Sept. 11 post, Jeff Williams also explored what a solution might look like.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Marner & Gardiner

In his post, titled “Here’s a Marner article, but you’re not gonna like it!!,” he pointed out how successfully the Marner camp has made a trade nearly impossible for the Maple Leafs.

The protracted negotiations tell other teams that the Maple Leafs would be dealing from of a place of weakness, and the result would be that the organization would be offered far less than market value. In addition, any team willing to trade wouldn’t know what they would need to pay him. And, that takes “another chunk off his value.”

Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner
Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

As Williams states: “Basically Mitch has
succeeded in making sure the Leafs aren’t able to trade him for anything close
to what he’s worth, while also making it impossible for them to sign him
because he’s butt hurt and demanding more than they can give.”

Williams ended his post by noting, “I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming.” He then suggested that the only real solution would be to give him close to what Matthews is getting – he suggests “5 years at 11.25M.”

My only problem with Williams’ logic is that, from what I read and hear, there’s no indication that Marner’s camp would accept something “close” to Matthews. Marner’s agent Darren Ferris seems intransigent in his demands that his client gets exactly the same contract Matthews signed – same numbers, and same term.

Item Three: Marner a No-Show on the Golf Course

It started with a golf game, but likely won’t end there. Marner will begin to miss other team functions as the negotiations move towards the beginning of the season.

The 22-year-old, unsigned, restricted free agent wasn’t expected to tee it up with his teammates and team sponsors at RattleSnake Point Golf Club, and this time he didn’t disappoint. The team will be starting off its preseason without him.

Related: NHL Rumors: Predators, Blues, Maple Leafs, Oilers, More

On Sept. 12, the rest of the team will be in St. John’s, N.L., to open training camp. The golf tournament was only the beginning. How temporary Marner’s absence might be is the question facing both the team and the player.

Item Four: Hesitancy to Name Matthews Captain

Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston suggested on Sept. 9 that the Maple Leafs have been hesitant to name Matthews a captain because they perceive that it might upset Marner. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Sandin Could Push for Roster Spot

About the captaincy, “I believe it’s Auston Matthews,” Johnston noted, because he believed Matthews was the team’s centerpiece.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Johnston added: “I think the timing of that is tricky, especially with Marner’s situation unresolved. Do they want to make that announcement before Mitch Marner signs? That might complicate some of the discussions being had on the side. So, I think it’s a little bit of a delicate issue. It’s one that I don’t think Kyle Dubas enjoys too much…but to me this is the right time for the Leafs to have a captain.”

What’s Next?

When and how the contract negotiations might end is the key question facing the Maple Leafs as they begin training camp in earnest on Friday. As an old guy, my experience tells me that people don’t easily switch their feelings on and off. Instead, these feelings are always tied to the circumstances they face. Specifically, I worry that the lingering contract issues will create a lasting enmity between Marner and other players in the locker room – in this case, specifically, Matthews.

We shall see.

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