With an absurd crop of players hitting restricted free agency this summer, it’s probably no surprise that the words “offer sheet” are being thrown around by media outlets who are in the business of speculation. However, considering what will be out there in terms of options, it seems a little weird that this narrative is starting to zone in on one player in particular: Mitch Marner.
So many good players, so little talk of offer sheets or contract stalemates for 14 of the 15 listed here. Weird.
There are a few reasons this could be the case. First off, Toronto is the most lucrative market in the league, so the focus on their players will always be on a bigger scale. That said, Kyle Dubas has seemed to button down that offer sheet talk with regards to Matthews by saying the team is optimistic about getting him under contract soon. Secondly, Marner’s camp has decided to push things out to the summer, and that’s not going to do the team any favours as far as potential nastiness in the media goes.
But the key reason this angle is getting more play, and could get pretty out of control in the coming months, is that certain outlets are starting to really go to work for the Marner side, and will continue to do so.
For instance, here’s a tidbit of information passed along by Darren Dreger yesterday on Leafs Lunch. And before this gets walked back by the “Oh, I was taken out of context” spin, it really isn’t. I listened to the segment, and this is a straightforward statement about how Marner apparently wants the same cap hit as Matthews.
“The Marner camp wants Matthews to go first (in negotiations), and then they can compare apples to apples. And depending on who you talk to, the Marner camp is pretty confident that they’re worth every penny that Auston Matthews is going to make.”
I’m not sure who the “Marner camp” is entirely, but let’s just say you can probably draw a line from that quote above to the one below from a story by Jonas Siegel last month.
“I’ll just be honest with you,” Mitch’s dad (Paul) said. “It drives our family nuts when we hear you guys all talk about who should be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mitch never hardly gets any consideration.”
And as far as negotiating through the media goes, you’re not going to find a more willing conduit than Dreger, who has been more-or-less shut out by the Leafs’ front office since Lou Lamoriello took over the team three years ago. When it comes to outside sources and agents or other teams who want to get their message across, he’s going for it.
Dreger said on Insider Trading that teams are "100%" preparing an offersheet for Mitch Marner if he reaches July 1st
— James (@Account4hockey) February 1, 2019
So let’s connect these dots. For argument’s sake, we’ll say Marner is willing to hold out or go elsewhere to get Matthews money, and that teams really are lining up to offer sheet him. Matthews will almost surely crest the 10.1-million dollar AAV threshold that puts offer sheet compensation at four first round picks. What these guys are speculating is that a another team is all-in on unloading their firsts for 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 in order to pay Marner that same amount of money. I’ve never known NHL general managers to be even close to this bold.
But then again, this idea is usually premised on “the rival team would just do it to hurt the Leafs’ cap situation, they don’t actually want to sign him”. Yeah, essentially no one takes that risk. Toronto could just take the picks, and depending on what’s out there in unrestricted free agency (Karlsson, Panarin), still walk away with a star player and a cupboard loaded with eight first rounders over the next four years. There’s no ceiling on what you could do with those types of assets. And those are unprotected picks, so for this hypothetical “rival” manager, one Marner injury or lottery ball win probably loses you your job.
Is a general manager really going to risk running their team into the ground to get something like this done? Marner is an elite talent, but he’s comparable to guys like Gaudreau, Point, Aho, and so on. There are 1.5 players that are realistically worth that four first-rounders ask: McDavid for sure, then maybe someone like Matthews or Mackinnon. And of course this is all cap situation dependent.
But chances of this happening aside, the main takeaway here is that it’s become clear there are media connections more than willing to go to bat for the “Marner camp”, which might not even include Mitch himself, but certainly his agent, and… others.
Contrasted with how tame things have been on the Matthews side, and the rest of the RFA crop in general, it looks like we’re getting an early glimpse of just how toxic the situation could get in the summer and in to next season. And perhaps the most interesting thing to follow will be how the narrative around this negotiation compares to that of William Nylander who, five months into the season, still hasn’t quite recovered his image in the eyes of the Toronto fanbase.