While the urge to not overreact to the Game 7 loss and elimination from the NHL 2020-21 playoffs is going to be on the minds of many Toronto Maple Leafs fans today, there’s a lot of talk about what direction the team might go after failing to get passed the Montreal Canadiens and after more disappointing production from some of the top stars.
While it’s true that moving a player like Mitch Marner means immediately trying to find a player like Mitch Marner, there’s as much a sense that the Leafs should think about trading him as there is chalking this series up to the fact he just didn’t have it and he’s too good to simply part with because of another failed postseason.
One of the more important aspects of all this might come when looking at what the owners of the team expect. As Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic points out, there might be a need to make some sort of drastic change and that directive could come down from the MLSE Board of Directors.
I think what’s going to be most interesting is how the MLSE Board of Directors react to this setback. My sense is that the patience/status quo option is not going to be a welcome answer for the owners. Not when MLSE is dolling out millions in July 1 signing bonuses to some of these players and still paying Mike Babcock $5.875 million through June 2023 not to coach the Leafs.
In other words, while GM Kyle Dubas and President of Hockey Operations may look at this elimination and ask themselves, ‘What else could we possibly have done?’ the ownership group might have a chat with the two men in charge of putting this team together and say, ‘The way this team is built isn’t working, and we’re paying an awful lot of money for something that hasn’t worked.’
LeBrun adds, “While it may be that staying patient and believing in the Leafs’ core and not overreacting is actually the route to go hockey-wise, I’m not sure the people in suits at MLSE are going to go for that business-wise.”
What Does That Mean For the Leafs?
The biggest tickets on the Maple Leafs are John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Tavares isn’t going anywhere because of a no-move clause. But, Marner has a NMC that kicks in just head of the 2023-24 season, as does Auston Matthews whose contract expires after that campaign. There’s a window to move either that doesn’t stay open forever.
If MLSE says to Dubas and Shanahan, ‘start getting us something for the obscene amount of money we’re spending’, the first place the Leafs will have to look is Marner. He’s a fantastic player and his regular season numbers have been off the charts good. Most of the 31 other NHL teams would love to have a player like him on their team. That said, he also makes $10.9 million per season and the organization likely hasn’t forgotten about how he held them to the fire during his contract negotiations. That’s important when you consider he’s not scored a goal in 18 playoff games.
As Kevin Papetti of Maple Leafs Hot Stove writes, “The fact is that he signed a $10.893M contract, and took no hometown discount. They owe him absolutely nothing as a result, and his contract structure makes him insanely valuable to non-cap teams.
Will there be a serious conversation about where the team is heavily investing its money. You bet. Will it lead to anything? Time will tell.
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