I am intrigued by all of the chatter and speculation that suggests a Marner trade is inevitable. It raises the question of how indispensable is Mitch Marner to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pursuit of competing for the Stanley Cup.
It’s not a question of individual performance. Going forward, starting with the season that is allegedly commencing on January 01 2021, is Marner an essential piece of the Maple Leafs? For example: The Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, he is indispensable.
Those who advocate Leafs trading Marner suggest general manager Kyle Dubas needs to trade him. They point to the completely absurd amount of money Marner is being paid and mention his less than impressive five-on-five production.
I’m not sold on Marner being indispensable, yet. But not for the same reasons noted above. There’s a bigger problem; the Leafs haven’t won anything with Marner in the line-up, not a single round of post season play.
Marner’s Salary and Five-on-five Production
My interpretation of Marner’s salary comes from CapFriendly.com. Much like the $11.0 million cap hit attached to John Tavares, in the flat cap era Marner’s $10.89 is a problem Dubas couldn’t have anticipated.
I don’t see Marner’s contract being a showstopper to a trade, though. If Dubas pays $2.36 million of the signing bonus due to Marner on July 01, 2021, the actual annual amount due to Marner would be $8.0 million for the next four years; a competitive rate for a player possessing Marner’s skill and individual production levels. For teams with available cap space, he’ll put fans in the seats, when fans are next allowed to be in the seats.
The comment about Marner’s five-on-five production can be looked at two-ways; internally and externally. Internally, Marner’s 0.78 average even strength points per game over the past two seasons is near identical to Auston Matthews’ 0.79, and higher than Tavares’ 0.73.
Externally, Marner’s two-year average for even strength points per game hovers around the same mark as the Bruins’ David Pastrnak (0.77) and Brad Marchand (0.78), and is significantly higher than Bergeron’s per game average of 0.63 over the past two seasons. Does this suggest that even strength points per game don’t matter as much as the pundits seem to think it does?
Consider other players with a two year even strength average points per game percentage beneath Marner; Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin (0.57) and Jamie Benn (0.45) and St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly (0.61).
While Marner’s even strength production per game is more impressive than what some analysts think it is, few would argue that at least five of the six aforementioned players would add more value to the Leafs on-ice product than Marner does.
The Conversation is Not About Individual Production, or Community Service
For the record, Mitch Marner has wonderfully displayed his willingness and actions to help others less fortunate. At the age of 21 he started his own charity, The Marner Assist Fund. It’s a great name for someone who has demonstrated the ability to assist a goal. His assists during the first four years in the NHL average 71% of his point totals. In the 2019/20 season it was 76%.
During the covid-19 quarantine, Marner dove into charity work and used his influence to help front line workers and those struggling in a very difficult time.
On July 27 2020, Marner was named as the Leafs nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. The award is given out annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.
With the End In Mind, Is Marner Indispensable?
The Stanley Cup is said to be the hardest trophy to win in all of pro sport. Regardless of the sport, winning a championship requires team chemistry. Team chemistry takes time to develop, it evolves then emerges.
The core group of Maple Leafs has been together for a few years now, including Tavares. They’ve had enough time to evolve. It’s time to surface in a competitive race for the Stanley Cup.
Dubas is currently hard at work trying to add pieces that will take the Leafs to the next level and beyond. Admittedly, Dubas would like the Leafs to be incredibly hard to play against. To achieve his goal, Dubas has to change the philosophy he’s used to build the team he has.
Organically, the highly skilled top six must be a threat every time they are on the ice. For the bottom six to fully compliment the highly skilled top six, Dubas must copy the blueprint of teams that will no doubt compete for the 2021 Stanley Cup.
Justifiably, based on team performance over the past four years and more specifically during the playoffs and the 2020 play-in round, the jury is still out on whether or not Marner is an indispensable piece of the Leafs.
The Leafs’ fans are tired of the futility of making the playoffs and then not vigorously competing for the Stanley Cup. Even so, it makes sense that Dubas hold off on trading Marner.
Over the past four Leafs’ seasons, Marner has the most regular season games played and the most points. It is ditto for the playoffs over the same period of time. Nonetheless, based on team success or lack thereof, Mitch Marner has not proven that he is indispensable.
I say Dubas gets one more crack at building the Leafs bottom six forwards needed to support the core of the top six already in place. If Dubas does and the Leafs still fail to advance to the final four, then raise the team chemistry card, and trade an obviously expendable Marner; he will have further proven himself to be non-essential to the success of the Maple Leafs.
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