Earlier this offseason, we outlined all the good reasons why an offer sheet for Mitch Marner is an unlikely scenario. While the buzz in the last 12 hours or so has picked up about a potential offer sheet for Marner, all of the reasons outlined in the piece remain as true as ever.
As it turns out, though, at least one GM in the league didn’t think these scenarios through all that well — and there could be more of these sorts of managers out there, so while a Marner offer sheet still seems more unlikely than not, one can’t be ruled out entirely. The Islanders scenario is somewhat interesting not just because of the Lou Lamoriello connection to the Leafs and Marner, but also the fact that they’ve drafted 15 times in the first round in their last 10 drafts — including twice in 2018 — which could be viewed as a potential justification for an expensive offer sheet move.
The Islanders lost out on Panarin but they aren’t done big-game hunting yet. Offer sheet is a very real possibility and Marner is the most likely target.
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) July 5, 2019
"From what I understand it should happen today…I heard $12.5M." @RadioVendetta confirms the report from @TheFourthPeriod that a team is "very seriously considering" presenting an offer sheet to Marner @gregbradyTO @hughwburrill. #LeafsForever
— Sportsnet 590 The FAN (@FAN590) July 5, 2019
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s offer sheet on Sebastian Aho was the ultimate wet firecracker; finally, we see an offer sheet, and it’s submitted at a clearly-too-low amount to the point where Carolina couldn’t believe their good fortune of having Bergevin submit it and Aho sign it. If Marner was also offered anything below $10 million AAV by a rival club and actually signed it, the Leafs will be quite content to match it and put this whole ordeal behind them.
The most intelligent (I’ll rephrase: least dumb) offer sheet that could be submitted this summer for Marner would be for five years and just under the $10.568 million AAV threshold — this would stress the Leafs should Marner actually sign it, although they almost certainly would and should match given the compensation package is two firsts, a second, and a third in this scenario.
In that case, the Leafs would be forced to give Marner the five years and $10+ million he’s reported to be looking for — slightly uncomfortable on the AAV, much more so the term. That puts the expiration of his contract exactly in line with Auston Matthews’ and William Nylander’s, meaning all three will be pending UFAs at the same time and all will be looking to cash in on seven or eight-year contracts to max out their career earnings on the last big-ticket deal of their careers under the higher cap ceiling.
The Leafs will be okay in this scenario cap wise, though, at least in the immediate future. They can exceed the cap by up to 10% up until just before opening night and a quick look at their cap situation reveals that cap manager Brandon Pridham has budgeted for the flexibility of having between $9.5-10.6 million in space once the LTIR relief on Nathan Horton’s contract is triggered.
All the Leafs would have to do in the case of Marner falling in between $10 million and $10.6 million is maintain a tighter roster of 20 or 21 players instead of running with a 22 or 23-man roster. They might be forced to expose a waiver-eligible player or two to become cap compliant by the deadline, but it would not be the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination. In addition to getting Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen under contract, this is what the Leafs were preparing themselves for by paying the price to move out Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev while also shipping out Connor Brown in the Zaitsev deal — that is: needing to pay Marner anywhere between $8.5 – $10.6 million depending on the contractual terms and how the final deal comes about.
If a rival team is reckless enough to go above $10.568 million on a Marner offer sheet, it’s a straight-ahead decision as well, which is to take the four first-round picks and the cap space and head into the rest of the offseason/season with ample room to maneuver along with an influx of draft pick capital that will serve as highly-valuable currency for the team to trade or to draft with for years to come. Make no bones about it, it would sting to lose an elite and versatile winger like Marner in the short run, but if it’s between an $11 million Marner or $10+ million in cap space and four first-round picks, the latter asset cluster wins every time.
The Leafs were without their first-round selection in the 2019 draft and are without one in 2020 after the Marleau deal. Suddenly, they’d have seven between 2020-2023 or eight in between 2021-2024, depending on the draft-pick situation of the team hypothetically submitting the offer sheet. This is a Leafs team that could still contend with William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen as its top-six right wingers while also having seven first-round draft picks in their next four drafts — a highly-advantageous position to be in. Plus, cap space is a major asset for any contending team. The Leafs would have the ability to add to their team and conduct business that is not only on a dollar-in, dollar-out basis. They would also be in a better position to consider extensions on Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie depending on how their seasons play out.
As Kyle Dubas and other GMs have hinted at, it’s not the relationship between managers that is the biggest driving factor behind the lack of offer sheets over the years, it’s the (arguably improperly-aligned) compensation scheme that makes going after players of the calibre of Mitch Marner a no-win situation. Rest assured, the Leafs are in a position right now to handle whatever comes their way.