Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner - Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Image

As the Mitch Marner saga nears its next deadline with the opening of training camp (Sep. 12), Chris Johnston discusses the latest reports on his contract demands, while Pierre LeBrun suggests Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews have turned a new page (for the better) in their relationship going into the new season in today’s Leafs Links.

Leafs Links

Chris Johnston on Marner’s contract negotiations (Sportsnet 960)
CJ joined Pinder and Steinberg to discuss the RFA contracts to Werenski and Zacha and the latest on the Marner negotiation.

On whether the bridge-deals we’re seeing with recent RFA signings could be what the Marner camp is seeking:

It is certainly consistent with what Mitch Marner has been shopping around for. His camp has looked more recently at a three-year deal. I think they’ve talked to some other teams still to see if there is an offer sheet potential. If there was a three-year deal with an ascending pay structure, it would be favourable to them.

On whether the report that Marner wants $15 million in the third year of his bridge deal could be true:

It’s hard to carve through what they believe and what they are asking for. It’s still a negotiation, which I think is a surprise to a lot of people. I was speaking to a couple of folks who work for other teams today and they were remarking that they were surprised it is still kind of in the tug-back-and-forth stage given how long they have been talking. Everyone knows the ramifications. I am pretty sure both sides are well versed on what the other wants.

The short answer is I don’t believe the Leafs have any interest in a three-year deal at all with Mitch Marner — maybe as an absolute last resort, something they have to sign at the end of September/early October to get him back and playing games prior to the regular season. But his camp prefers that right now. I think they see it as a way perhaps to get Mitch to earn something close to what Auston Matthews is going to learn when he’s five years out of his entry-level deal by taking a little bit less on the AAV for a three-year deal but earning more in that third year and in position in years four and five to make up some of the difference between those players.

But I don’t know how realistic it is. They’ve definitely talked to other teams at various points over the summer about that sort of contract, trying to sell those teams on the idea that the Leafs won’t be able to match that or they might not match it; that it would be a way to get Mitch Marner on an offer sheet. But no one has bitten on it so far. To be honest, now we are at a stage where there are only so many teams that would even have the cap space to remotely entertain offer sheeting this guy. I think the possibility of it happening drops considerably with the season now here and teams having to be cap compliant in the next few weeks. I think he is going to have a very difficult time getting that deal in Toronto and evidently, no one else was looking to give it to him, either.

On how the Leafs‘ cap situation affects negotiations if they enter the regular season without a deal:

[Because they’re accruing no cap space] Toronto’s position actually gets weaker in terms of signing Mitch Marner once the season begins. If his goal is to reach a contract with the Leafs, which I have to believe fundamentally it is, the real deadline for his contract has to be the start of the year, and if they go past that, there honestly is a doomsday scenario where the Leafs can’t sign him even if they wanted to or another team might not offer sheet him and he might be stuck. I don’t think it will come to that, but it is a possibility in his case because of the Leafs’ unique cap situation. Thursday doesn’t matter when they report for camp, but October 2nd is a huge date when it comes to negotiations between him and the Leafs.

On whether the cap bind helps the Leafs or Marner’s leverage:

I think that he has played this hand pretty deep. I wouldn’t say that he’s overplayed it yet, but you’re getting there. It is not a similar situation where in Nylander’s case, the Leafs’ offer did come up as time went along last year. They just aren’t in a position to do that. As a result, I think they’ve been far more proactive in this negotiation. They’ve already offered money on the table that they think makes them uncomfortable —  that might be a little more than he’s worth — but they’re trying to get a deal done. It hasn’t sparked one yet. There is a point where I think they won’t go any further. I’m not saying they’ll trade him by any means — they could let him sit — but who knows how it happens. It is going to be intriguing as we get closer to the season if nothing gets done in the meantime.

Pierre LeBrun on the relationship between Matthews/Babcock, Marner (TSN1050)
LeBrun joined Overdrive to discuss the latest with the outstanding RFA contracts around the league, including Mitch Marner, and the relationship between Matthews and Babcock.

I don’t want to get into Babcock’s head or Matthews’ head on this. I don’t know if I am good at every part of my job but one thing I try to read is body language. I will tell you that I think Auston Matthews and Mike Babcock have turned a real important page in their relationship. Now, we’ll how the year goes. I don’t know about [captaincy] but I am saying I think there is a realization of how much they need each other moving forward in terms of the kind of success that is going to benefit both of them if they see things through the same lens. A lot of positivity from Auston when I sat with him last Friday and through the phone line with Babcock. Unbelievable enthusiasm about, “This guy is ready. He is comfortable in his own skin. Let’s go.”

Could Zach Werenski’s deal lead to other NHL RFAs signing? (Sportsnet)
CJ joined Sportsnet Central to discuss if the Maple Leafs are going to name a captain before the season and the leading candidate for the C.

I believe it is Auston Matthews. This is a case where the Leafs could go in a couple of directions. Obviously, John Tavares wore it for a number of years in Long Island. Morgan Rielly is seen as a key leader on this team. Even Mitch Marner eventually when he gets his deal. But to me, Auston Matthews is the centerpiece of the Leafs. We saw that with the deal they gave him when he did his extension back in February. To me, he is the decision.

The timing of that is a little trickier, especially with Marner’s situation unresolved. Do they want to make that kind of announcement before Marner is signed? It might complicate some of the discussions being had on the side. It’s a little bit of a delicate issue. It’s not one Kyle Dubas enjoys too much, I don’t think. He has been asked about it repeatedly. But to me, this is the right time for the Leafs to have a captain. it is not a young group anymore. They’ve had a lot of experience. They have some expectations and the contracts to go with it. I think it is only natural at some point here prior to the season that they put the C on someone’s sweater.

Jake Gardiner on signing with the Canes, his time in Toronto (TSN1050)
From last week, Jake Gardiner joins the guys on Overdrive to discuss the delay in getting a contract signed this summer and leaving Toronto for Carolina.

On what was behind the months-long delay in signing for a new team:

It could’ve been the fact that I got hurt last year. I am sure that had something to do with it. That probably scared some teams off. But Carolina obviously wanted me. It just ended up being the right decision.

Other Leafs Links