Over the past two seasons, Mitch Marner’s status with Toronto Maple Leafs fans has fallen – and from my perspective rather quickly. That doesn’t mean he still isn’t a good player – he is; nor does it mean he doesn’t have die-hard fans – he does.
However, over the past season, I also have come to beleive that more fans have turned on him. When I began writing about the Maple Leafs, he was the Golden Boy – he could seem to do no wrong. These days, that’s changed.
In this post, I want to talk about why three aspects of Marner’s contract – its negotiation, its value, and its construction – help make Marner a possibility for leaving his hometown Maple Leafs.
The Marner Contract Negotiations
Prior to Marner’s contract negotiations, many fans believed that – because Marner was a home-town lad – he would sign a team-friendly deal to stay with his home Maple Leafs team. It wasn’t to be.
Instead, it was quite the opposite. Ferris (and Marner by proxy) played hardball. Ferris took that tactic that Marner was as valuable to the team as Auston Matthews was and should earn the same salary. In fact, at the time (just after the deal was completed) Ferris reviewed the negotiations and noted that Matthews’ and John Tavares’ salaries were front and center in the negotiations.
Specifically, Ferris was asked: “There was a lot of talk about comparisons within the Maple Leafs — that John Tavares was making $11 million, Auston Matthews was making $11.6 million. Was that a big factor for you guys as you looked to measure Mitch against them?”
Ferris responded: “Absolutely. That is one of the factors that you bring into it. There is a comparison of players on his team with his teammates. When you go to work and you do the amount of work that someone else does in your company, you feel you should be compensated as fairly as them. I’m sure it is hard for people to relate considering the dollars we talk about here, but remember, players’ careers are short. They’re not long careers.”
Ferris Was Wrong About Marner’s Value to the Team
As it worked out, Ferris’ assessment of Marner’s stock both within the team and especially within the NHL hasn’t proved accurate. Matthews’ stock has risen. These days he’s probably seen as one of the top three or four NHL forwards currently playing.
On the other hand, Marner’s value simply hasn’t kept pace. He’s a good player, but he isn’t Matthews. I simply can’t imagine that any NHL hockey general manager would pick Marner over Matthews if they were going to build a team from the ground up. Matthews simply has more impact on-ice. He’s by far the Maple Leafs’ biggest star.
In fact, four months ago, there was a ranking of the three best Maple Leafs players during the 2019-20 season. Ranked first was Matthews. Ranked second was William Nylander. Ranked third was Zach Hyman. Obviously, part of that ranking is a personal preference. But two years ago, I’m confident that ranking would have been different. That Marner didn’t make that recent list is telling.
The Value and Problem of Marner’s Contract
Recently, talk of trading Marner has bubbled to the surface. Last Friday The Athletic’s Craig Custance published the results of an anonymous survey of player agents. The survey’s participants included 21 NHL player agents, to which Custance asked a variety of questions over. One question was to name high-profiled NHL star players they thought would be traded during the coming season. First, they named the Buffalo Sabres Jack Eichel. Second, they named the Winnipeg Jets Patrik Laine. Third, they named Marner. (from “NHL agent survey: 21 reps talk star trades, bubble standouts, offseason winners,” Craig Custance, The Athletic, 13/11/20).
A number of player agents believe that – if the Maple Leafs were forced to dump salary to fit under the cap – it will be Marner who’ll be named to hop the train out of town. Don’t you wonder what Marner would think if that were to happen? Perhaps he’s good with it; he would still get his money – the $10.893 million salary Ferris negotiated for him.
But Marner’s name has entered trade-talk rumors because (a) he’s seen by player agents as a player the Maple Leafs would “sell-off” if needed and (b) because his contract makes him easy to trade.
Although Marner’s salary-cap hit is always at $10,893 million until the end of the 2024-25 season, in real money paid, the cost of his contract is falling. For the 2020-21 season, Marner will take home $15 million; in 2021-22 he will take $10.358 million; then, from 2022-23 to 2024-25, he’ll be paid “only” $8 million per season. I bet a number of teams who aren’t bumping their heads against the top of the salary cap who would take Marner and his contract off the Maple Leafs hands.
Might Marner Do It Differently If He Had a Chance?
At some point, the contract Ferris negotiated for Marner might actually become the reason Marner leaves Toronto. To negotiate that contract, Ferris built the narrative that Marner was as crucial to the team as Matthews. That didn’t prove accurate and it cost Marner status with the fans.
Ferris “won” a high salary for his client by wedging out those final salary numbers. But what if winning means more to Marner than money? What if Marner really doesn’t want to leave Toronto because it’s his home and he loves playing and living there? If that’s the case, might he have been better off by taking a couple of million dollars less?
I have a feeling the Maple Leafs fans would appreciate Marner’s game more at $8.358 million than at $10.358 million. I also have a feeling this recent talk about trading Marner might not even have started. Sadly, if Marner leaves Toronto because the team chooses to move him, whose fault is that? Fans find it easy to blame Dubas, but I’m thinking he at least is only partially to blame.
Marner’s a good player, but he isn’t Matthews. I can’t imagine that – right now – anyone in the Maple Leafs’ organization wants to see Marner leave. But, if the moves the organization has made this offseason don’t pan out and someone has to leave, I won’t be surprised if it isn’t Marner.
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