Bob McKenzie provides his latest on Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, and Mitch Marner situations in today’s Leafs links.

Leafs Links

McKenzie: Marleau calling the shots on potential trade (TSN1050)
Bobby Mac provides the latest on the Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev trade rumours as well as the Mitch Marner contract negotiations.

On the Patrick Marleau trade market:

It’s pretty clear that the guy driving the bus on this entire thing is Patrick Marleau and his agent, Pat Brisson. That is where this is being orchestrated. Now, do the Toronto Maple Leafs want to get rid of the third year of his contract paying him $6.25 million and allocate the dollars someplace else? Yes, they would. But it’s not a coincidence it was the LA Kings the Leafs were talking about or the Arizona Coyotes because ultimately the Leafs can’t do anything without Marleau signing off on it. This is not a conventional thing where the Leafs say, “Oh, we’ve got this final year of Marleau’s contract and we’d like to get rid of it. Let’s talk to teams around the NHL.” You don’t even go through that exercise because Marleau has got a full no-move and a full no-trade and he is not going anywhere he doesn’t want to go.

There is probably mutual agreement here that it is time for Patrick Marleau to move on, but Patrick Marleau gets to call the shot on where and only if those teams can work something out with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it won’t be easy. For somebody to take on a 35+ contract at $6.25 million, knowing they are doing the Leafs a huge economic favour, there is going to be a premium involved and the question then becomes, “Can you make it work?”

In the case of the LA Kings, they’ve got a multitude of contracts and players they’d like to get rid of, but the Leafs are looking at it and saying, “There is no real benefit to taking back these things. It is as bad or worse than what we would have with Marleau’s contract.” A team like the Arizona Coyotes might take Marleau off of the Leafs’ hands, but they’d say they want a really good young player in return or a high draft pick. The Leafs may not be predisposed to do that at this time.

It is going to require a lot of finesse and there is no guarantee that it happens, but if it does, if anything is going to happen, it is all predicated on what Pat Brisson and Patrick Marleau can work out.

On the Nikita Zaitsev trade market and other possibilities for opening up cap space:

They’re not going to give Zaitsev away, or if they are going to give him away in a soft deal, then obviously there has got to be a corresponding other move that would bring in an experienced defenseman to pick up his minutes, but that can be accomplished in a lot of different ways.

If you’re looking at the Leafs, you kind of have to look at it globally and say, “Don’t look at the Marleau situation by itself or Zaitsev situation by itself. Look at the big picture.” And the big picture is that in terms of pure untouchables on the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’ve got John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner assuming he gets a contract signed, and you’ve got Morgan Rielly. Those are the four guys who are the core untouchables. I would put Frederik Andersen and William Nylander in the next grouping and suggest that the Leafs don’t want to trade these guys and probably won’t and it’d have to be a hell of an offer and a hell of a fit for them to do something like that.

After that, it is basically a wide open table. Kyle Dubas and the Leafs can’t afford not to consider all of their options. Whatever the deal for Zaitsev is, or whatever the deals for Marleau may or may not be, he has got other pieces. He’s got Kadri. He’s got Connor Brown. He’s got Andreas Johnsson. He’s got Kapanen. He is getting, I’m sure, lots of calls on lots of players. I would especially think, in the case of Kadri and Kapanen, he’s got two guys they’d get tons and tons of calls on.

It is going to be an interesting time and an interesting offseason for the Leafs because they do need to address the imbalance of forwards versus defense. They need to address the financial pressures that come with Zaitsev and Marleau’s contracts, but most of all, they need to address Mitch Marner’s contract negotiation. Until they get that squared away, it makes it really, really hard to do all that other stuff if you don’t know what the lay of the land is on the fallout from Marner.

On the latest on the Marner negotiation:

The vibe from the Marner camp is that we’re in no rush. If we need to go to the free agent period and do some shopping around, great. If we can get an offer sheet, so much the better. We’ll leverage whatever things are in our favour and try to maximize our return and do a good deal. But if you’re the Leafs, you’ve got to try to put everybody on the clock and say, “Come with your level best offer realistic of what you want to pay Mitch Marner.”

Get it into the universe where you really believe you’re not fooling around and not playing negotiating games. They’ve got to kind of expedite that whole process and find out. In a cap system, they’ve got to know what number it is that they can afford to give Mitch Marner. So just say, “This is what we’re giving you. This is what it is. X number of years and X number of dollars.” If Marner says, “I’m not signing for that,” the Leafs go, “Okay, fine, then we’ll start to look at other options.” If he says, “Yeah, you know what? I want to stay in Toronto, and that’s a decent contract. Let’s get it done.” But it’s one or the other.

These things tend to get drawn out a little bit, but in the Leafs’ case, anything they can do to expedite it and find out where things are at before the draft… Maybe they are going to have to go into the draft and talk to people about the unpalatable thing of maybe having to consider their options on trading Marner if they know Marner is not prepared to sign for what they’re going to give him.

Leafs catch break as stars align to trade Marleau, Zaitsev (The Athletic)
Mirtle is optimistic the Leafs can move out both contracts one way or another: “It’s become a whole lot more likely now that they both want to go.”

With no first rounder, how will Leafs approach 2019 Draft? (TSN)
TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button shares his thoughts on what he believes the Leafs’ draft strategy will be this year without a first-round pick.

You look at how they’ve drafted after the first round and they’ve drafted some players after the first round that have turned into some real solid prospects and have remained prospects. They traded Sean Durzi to acquire Jake Muzzin. You don’t make that good second-round draft pick, you don’t get Jake Muzzin. For Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs, this is about trying to acquire skill and trying to acquire talent — maybe some players that aren’t as physically mature, maybe other teams don’t rate them as high, but that’s where I see the Leafs moving in this year’s draft. And they’ve done the same thing in other drafts, but this is going to be the focus for this year.

10 NHL Draft Combine Takeaways: Jack Hughes is a true pro (Sportsnet)
“At the onset of this draft season, center was lauded as the position of choice for most of the high-end players… While that still rings true, there’s been a late great run of defencemen,” writes Sam Consentino.

How the Bruins power play perfectly demonstrates winning hockey (The Athletic)
As Leafs fans know all too well.