In the rotating carousel of what should be on the mind of every Leafs fan, recently it has been what forward Mitch Marner is really worth and what his new contract should or could look like.
From reports of somewhere near or even above what Auston Matthews got ($11.34-million AAV), to the Leafs wanting him to come around the Mark Stone/Nikita Kucherov $9.5-million AAV — there have been a somewhat wide array in the upper echelon of where he will eventually end up.
But as it’s becoming more apparent through recent contract signings in the NHL and other leagues elsewhere, the players are gaining more power of how much they should make and it’s perfect.
This system is build this way anyways. Besides the main reason of the salary cap, restricting the ability to just sign countless players to more money, it puts an emphasis on player movement because of the inability to fit everyone under the ceiling.
Each and every player has earned the right to make as much money as they can in their industry. Just like any other employee or worker, you move to the employer that is offering the best package — if that means a hockey player moving teams, then so be it.
If because of the salary cap and what contracts they currently have, the Leafs are unable to sign Marner to what he’s worth in today’s market, then they will still be within in current economic system to move on from the player.
For the Leafs to stand firm and only really offer what they can allow with projections of what other players will earn and what contract they currently have, would be possibly in their best interest. It would also be in Marner’s best interest to get the most amount, so if that includes forcing a trade to somewhere that will pay him that extra million, then that can be done.
Holding onto the minuscule amount of rights that players coming out of their Entry-Level Contracts, is what Marner has to do. Coming out of that rookie deal, there is no arbitration eligibility, so the player is left with nothing but to wait and sign a deal that is put in front of them.
Marner waiting to get a favourable deal for him personally, and not the team, might just bring the problem with player’s rights to the forefront. Especially when his rights belong to one of the teams that will be facing a salary cap problem for the upcoming competitive years, why settle for what they want?
In the short time that an NHL player has to earn all of his wealth, the best thing is to capitalize on a team wanting a young and skilled forward with more cap space than the Leafs.
In the MLB right now, two of its best pitchers — Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — are still unemployed because not enough teams want to win and teams are finding their value in less expensive options. Teams are not wanting to hand out those big free agent contracts.
If hockey goes down the path that the MLB is currently heading down — which you’re already seeing teams not give long-term deals to older players like Max Pacioretty — then players are facing a difficult future.
Marner won’t always be a 90-point player. If he hits unrestricted free agency the earliest he can, at 26-years-old in the 2023 offseason, then how a team looks at free agency can be totally different. What his market value truly is might change and he may even see a pay decrease. This is pure speculation, but there are small signs of teams holding less value in older players when you see players on rookie deals put out the same amount of production for 10% of the cost.
From the Leafs point-of-view, keeping Marner as inexpensive as possible makes sense, but there is a tipping point and if he does not want to settle (which he shouldn’t), then find a team that will.
There should be plenty of teams out there that will pay Marner more than what what the Leafs will. That’s the player movement aspect of the salary cap in action.
Offer sheets are always a possibility, but I’m sure if this contract negotiation goes beyond any offers being signed, then a team could get Marner for less in a trade than the picks they would give up in compensation.
It would help the Leafs too if this hypothetical team and trade would give them a player back that is still on their rookie deal, or on a very team-friendly one. That could be added value no matter what, especially for a team like the Leafs — guaranteed cost control.
Marner squeezing out that control he has and earning his maximum worth would be beneficial for him in the long term. If he values being with the Leafs, then stay there for a team-friendly deal, that’s the beautiful thing about contract negotiations.
If he truly wants to get the biggest dollar, then go to a team that will give him that and he shouldn’t be criticized for it — no one should.