Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Boston Bruins
Photo: Canadian Press

In today’s Leafs Links, the latest in the Mitch Marner negotiations dominate the discussion two days out from the opening of the RFA negotiating window.

31 Thoughts: Good Thing The Draft Is Two Days Long (Sportsnet)
Chris Johnston and Elliotte Friedman broke down the Mitch Marner situation and the latest on the Nikita Zaitsev trade front on the post-draft 31 Thoughts podcast.

Johnston on the level of panic Leafs fans should be feeling about Marner:

I’d put it at about a three [out of 10]. I do think as we are talking right now things are off the rails. But it’s clear to me that the Leafs have prioritized signing him and they are going to do whatever it takes one way or another. I really don’t believe we are going to see an offer sheet on Mitch Marner. I might be wrong, but I’ve talked to enough people from other teams just gauging how this sort of thing might play out. You are going to have to overpay him. If you’re trying to get Toronto not to match, you’re going to have to give him a salary that the Leafs say, “Okay, we can’t give him that.” And you’re going to have to give up four first-round draft picks. I think the world of Mitch Marner as a player and it’s not a shot at him, but the way the system works, it’s very unlikely he gets a formal offer sheet. Until I see it, I won’t believe it.

Friedman on Dubas getting Johnsson and Kapanen under contract:

I think Kyle Dubas decided that his pre-draft message was going to be, “There are going to be massive changes if possible don’t start buying in.” I think that was his shot across the bow, particularly to guys like Kapanen and Johnsson. “If Marleau has to come back and we have to let Marner go, those aren’t going to be the only changes. Other guys are going, too.” Now they’ve got a deal with Kapanen. It sounds like they’ve got a deal with Johnsson at 4 x 3.4. I wouldn’t surprised if there is some bonuses and up-front money there, too, which Toronto can do as well or better than anybody else. Marleau is gone and they got that worked out. Now we still have the Marner thing, which looks like it is totally off the rails, but I think Kyle Dubas was trying to say to people, “Look, we’re going to have to start taking harder lines. If we can’t get things done the way we need to get them done, we’re going to make changes and difficult decisions.” I think that’s kind of why some of these things moved a little bit on the weekend.

Johnston on the possible fallout from the Marner saga even if he signs long term in Toronto:

Remember how this last season started with Brendan Shanahan speaking to reporters on the afternoon of the first game of the regular season. We didn’t see WIlliam Nylander do that and Auston Matthews didn’t do that with the contract extension he signed. Clearly, Mitch Marner is not going to do that now. I don’t hold it against the players — it’s their careers and they have the right to do what they want — but it’s possible things go wrong after that. There could be some bad feelings. It could result in other players needing to be traded.

The reason I put it at a three on the scale is because I think he is going to be a Maple Leaf but I don’t yet know fully what the repercussions are going to be for the roster. There is a chance it’s not just Nikita Zaitsev or someone like that being traded. 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.”

Friedman on Dubas’ comment about not automatically matching any offer sheets:

I can’t imagine Marner is happy with what Dubas said. I understand why Dubas did it. I think Dubas had to come out and say, “If you sign the big deal in offer-sheet land, we may not be able to do this. You may force our hand.” I think the biggest challenge the Maple Leafs have right now with Mitch Marner is: How do you get the emotion out of this whole problem? When you get emotional, it totally gets in the way. You need someone in your life to say, “Are you sure?” These are life decisions. When you are emotional, you make a snap judgment and all of a sudden it has affected your entire life. You need that person in your life to say, “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?” If he wants to go somewhere else and take it, I’ve got no problem with it. If he wants to stay here and take it, I’ve got no problem with that. He 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.”

Johnston on whether it’s money or pride/ego that’s causing the friction:

It feels as though so much of this is around that he didn’t get the full bonuses in his first contract. He didn’t initially get the kind of ice time he would’ve wanted or the people around him would’ve wanted in the first year. Obviously, he has two teammates that are paid a lot, too. It’s a cap issue for Toronto on the one hand. I think it’s also about how they can give him the feeling he matters on the same level as those other guys without paying him at that level. I don’t know if it is possible, but I do think that, on some level, that is what is driving some of this.

Brian Burke on Marner, offer sheets, Perry, Subban, and Eakins (Sportsnet)
Burke says Marner has received an offer of eight years $80 million but his camp isn’t interested in that length of term at that price.

It’s a little early to call it a debacle, but if I got this close, I would wait until July 1st. I wouldn’t sign. None of these guys have. My understanding is that a very significant offer was made; a full eight-year term and $10 million a year was what one of our guys told me — a guy on our staff who talked to the agent. My understanding is they don’t want the eight-year term. Auston Matthews has the right to walk after five years and this player is saying, “If I’ve got to take less money than Auston Matthews even though I am the leading scorer the last two years, I am certainly not taking a longer term.” The notion they’re waiting until July 1st to see if there is an offer sheet — I’d do the same thing if I was representing this player. It is already June 24th.

On whether Marner or anyone else is going to receive an offer sheet:

The reason there aren’t more offer sheets — people think it’s because of collusion or there is an unwritten rule among GMs, and that’s not true. The reason there are not more offers sheets is because teams match them and you’re just driving up the price of poker for a competitor. There is no reason to do it unless you think you’re going to get the player. I do think we will see at least one offer sheet this summer. I don’t think it will be for Mitch Marner.

The Marner thing isn’t going very well, but the Leafs had a good weekend. Moving Marleau, I like their draft pick, they’re getting closer on two guys. If you were giving grades out at the draft, I think the Leafs would get a high grade.

McKenzie discusses latest on Kapanen, Johnsson, and Marner (TSN1050)
Bob McKenzie joined Leafs Lunch to discuss the Leafs’ weekend at the draft and the status of their RFAs.

On Johnsson and Kapanen’s contracts and the Leafs’ cap situation:

The deals are done. They just haven’t been fully executed and registered with the league, but they will be regardless of what happens with Marner. In due course here, they’ll get papered. The Johnsson is four years, $3.4 million AAV. The Kapanen deal is three years, $3.2 million AAV. Those guys are locked in.

Obviously, players of this age and level don’t get no-trade or no-move protection. I don’t believe there is any verbal assurances from either agent or player that they absolutely will not under any circumstances be traded. I think they were given the same basic premise/comment when Nylander signed. “We’re not signing you to trade you.” That’s the basic premise, but it’s the NHL and everybody potentially could be traded.

Primary focus is to sign them and keep them, but signed players are actually worth more if you go to trade somebody. The Leafs would obviously know that. But they weren’t sitting there saying, “We hope we can get these guys signed so we can get them out of here.” The reality is the work that Kyle Dubas did on the weekend to get rid of Marleau contract was expensive. It’s not an insignificant thing that the Leafs will be without a first-round pick for the second consecutive year, but it is the price of poker and the cost of doing business in the NHL when you’ve got a contract you didn’t want to keep around.

By freeing up Marleau, it allowed them to negotiate and finalize the deals for Kapanen and Johnsson. What it really does more than anything else is that the Toronto Maple Leafs, going into next season, know that they can be cap complaint with the group they’ve got. That includes Marner at a big number; north of $10 million, I’d imagine. If you add it all up, the Leafs will be able to fit under next year’s salary cap with the players that they’ve got.

The problem that you can see very quickly is that you look at their depth chart and they’ve got Rielly, Muzzin, Dermott — who is going to miss the first month of the season — and you’ve got Zaitsev. It is not a contending team defense, you would think. That’s the big asterisk that goes with the Leafs being under the cap. Now you’ve got Connor Brown who is expendable and probably won’t be back, and then you’ve got Zaitsev. It gives you a little bit of flexibility.

McKenzie on how the Leafs might improve their blue line:

If they’re going to improve their defense, it’s going to be through trade. I don’t think it is going to be through free agency. There are free agents who appeal to the Leafs. Anton Stralman would be a guy that would fit very nicely in the profile of the Leafs defense, but the reality is he is a UFA who is going to get way more money and way more term and way more security in terms of no-move clauses than the Leafs would be prepared to give him. I don’t think there is a solution on the free agent market, so it’s going to have to be by trade, and it’s going to be chipping away at that trying to find a way to get it all done.

Dreger on Marleau trade, Marner contract talks and more (TSN1050)
Darren Dreger joined First Up to discuss the latest in the Marner negotiation and the Leafs’ interest in PK Subban at the draft.

Toronto had discussions about PK Subban but they needed David Poile and the Preds to eat up in the vicinity of $3 million per. It wasn’t a fit. Obviously, Poile either had Ray Shero and the Devils parked in his back pocket or knew the Devils were right there. The Devils realized there was developing interest outside.

On Dubas and Ferris not meeting in Vancouver:

I gave full props to Kyle Dubas for the work he did in Vancouver. Here is the one thing I am surprised by: He did not meet with Darren Ferris in Vancouver. That was not a priority to have a face-to-face sit down and I don’t understand why. There has been constant communication between Ferris and Dubas. It’s not like one side is ignoring the other, and maybe they’re just at a point now where they are approaching the 11th hour and understand the other’s position and Dubas recognizes there are other things he can make progress on. He did find work, but I am shocked he did not have 15 minutes or half an hour to sit down in a quiet place in Vancouver and really try too push the rock forward on Mitch Marner.

There was some serious message sending by Dubas and the Leafs in Vancouver to the Marner camp. Reflect back on Dubas’ availability on Thursday. Up until this point, he has talked about how, if Marner gets offer sheeted, he’s just going to match. He’s been very consistent all along. Friday, he hit the switch and blatantly said: If someone offer sheets and those first four-round picks are available, we’ll have to consider it. And then the no meeting. That is the Toronto Maple Leafs grabbing hold and saying, “We are yanking the leash here. We own your rights. We do not want to go down the path of William Nylander again, but you are not entirely controlling this process.” Whether that’s beneficial or whether that works, we’ll find out here soon.

Other Leafs Links