Right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner is the most polarizing player on the team. Some fans – and it seems fewer than before – believe he’s an elite player. Most fans – and the numbers seem to be growing – believe he’s a good player, but not nearly as good as the salary he draws. At best. he’s complementary to others on the team.
Many fans want him gone. Even if the team gets nothing for him in commensurate trade value, just having his salary free to pay other more “deserving” players seems to be enough for them.
But is there any way Marner can be welcomed back to the team and the full measure of adoration that he once held before he signed his most-recent contract? Many fans simply cannot seem to forgive him for his big contract and for the way he negotiated it.
I believe there’s a way for Marner to find his way back into the fans’ good books. And, in this post, I’ll suggest how he might just once again regain the good favor of Maple Leafs’ fans.
Where Is the Team at This Point in the Season?
To this point in the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a better season than most of their fans might have expected. The reason for suspicion was warranted.
Frederik Andersen, Zach Hyman, and Zach Bogosian had moved on to other teams and the organization – through the work of general manager Kyle Dubas – was trying to replace those key pieces in a way that fitted into the team’s salary-cap budget. He did well to bring in some great pieces – Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase, and David Kampf jump to mind.
Say what you want, this season’s team is just as good if not better than last season’s team. Any skepticism that was present has since been replaced with more confidence that this team will likely make the playoffs. How they do after that – well, few Maple Leafs’ fans are betting the mortgage.
Obviously, given the rotten way last season ended during the playoffs means that a good regular season isn’t enough.After a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens when the team lost the last three in a row, there was obvious concern that the team would be far worse than it was last season. That the team’s been just as good is step one in the right direction. But that’s only one step.
Mitch Marner Has, in Comparison to Last Season, Had a Down Season
However, for as improved as the team is, the one player who has not played as well has been Mitch Marner. Last season, Marner had a strong season and finished fourth in points in the entire NHL. This season has been more difficult for him. He isn’t scoring up to either fans’ or his own expectations.
Forgetting his performance during the playoffs – where both he and Auston Matthews simply didn’t get it done – who really would have believed that Marner would have had a sub-par season? Certainly not me.
Who knows why his regular season has suffered? He did suffer a shoulder injury. Now he has COVID-19. Still, even before those setbacks, he was scoring at fewer than the point-a-game pace we’ve become used to.
To date, Marner’s scored six goals and 15 assists in 26 games on the season. Most hockey players would covet that kind of production; however, Marner’s been better than a point-a-game player except for his first two seasons. He now has 379 points in 381 games. Like Marner or not, these days that’s Hockey Hall of Fame production.
How Will Marner Play When He Returns to the Team After COVID-19 Protocol?
As it stands right now, should Marner continue to play at the pace he’s been playing at, he’d have the worse season of his entire career – something just under 60 points in about 70 games or so. But, really, no one would care if only he could do one thing.
As noted, as it stands Marner is perhaps the most polarizing player on the Maple Leafs’ lineup. Many Maple Leafs’ fans can’t get over the money he makes given his general level of production. They believe his salary holdout – some Maple Leafs’ fans believe it amounted to posturing, threatening, and holding the team for ransom – was in fact a tacit promise that he would and could deliver once he got “the money.”
He has not – at least not in the way fans believed he should, given the money he makes. But, he has one chance at redemption. That chance is the playoffs.
Because most Maple Leafs’ fans are tired of regular-season success followed by postseason failure, what would happen if Marner put together a great postseason and led his time to a few series’ wins?
You can bet that Maple Leafs’ fans would be quite forgiving. Should he become a postseason leader who leads the franchise to a Stanley Cup after 55 years, I can’t see a single Maple Leafs’ fan refusing to come to the parade because they don’t like Marner.
There’s a Way Back Home for Marner
Even if he has a rotten rest of the regular season, those poor numbers won’t matter a lick if his performance in May and June helps the Maple Leafs gain playoff success. This team is capable and could go on the kind of postseason run they haven’t done in years.
Almost every Maple Leafs’ fan will tell you, the measure of this team’s success will depend only on how well it does during the playoffs. If Mitch Marner can lead his team to a Stanley Cup – or anywhere close – nothing else he does this season will matter at all.
His contract will also be “just fine.”
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