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Mitch Marner is putting on a masterclass in negotiating through the media

No matter what’s going on behind the scenes, it appears the next couple months are going to be a tumultuous time for the Leafs as far as media coverage goes. With questions about Babcock’s return and the pending restricted free agents that will have an enormous impact on the team’s cap situation, it’s no wonder every day we’re treated to a quote through one of the big sports outlets like Sportsnet or TSN about how important (or potentially devastating) this offseason will be. It’s Toronto, it’s expected.

But to zero in on the Mitch Marner contract negotiation, easily most dominant story to this point, it’s interesting how this one in particular is playing out over the airwaves. To put it bluntly, I think Marner’s “camp” is putting on a clinic on how negotiating through the media in the largest hockey media market can actually work and be effective. I mean, whoever is driving this whole thing – his agent, family, Marner himself – has been knocking this thing out of the park in terms of getting that side’s message out there. Credit where it’s due.

Think about it: Since about February or even earlier, we’ve heard almost-weekly that Mitch Marner is looking to get Auston Matthews money — according to a number of sources, Marner firmly believes he’s worth every bit as much to the Leafs. That reached a tipping point when MM’s agent went public to trash the Leafs for Matthews’ new contract, on the day it was signed no less. It was ugly. And now, with the Leafs’ season over and the focus shifted to the summer, that’s evolved into a daily occurrence – Marner’s most obvious water carrier being Darren Dreger of TSN, but everyone’s willing to pass along this information.

And consider what it’s done. By repeating it every day to anyone who’ll listen, Marner’s influence on the media has brought us into a world where a meaningful portion of the fanbase believes that he is worth around $11.6-million annually, the same as Matthews. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s shifted an even larger part of the base to look at, say, $10-million AAV or so like it’s reasonable. It isn’t. None of this is. But the whole negotiation, or at least the way it’s being perceived by the masses, has shifted into this new framework. It’s a masterclass in using the biggest media megaphone there is to move the conversation.

Marner is a great player, an absolute fan favourite in Toronto for good reason, but at the end of the day he is a high-scoring winger with obvious comparables coming out of this first contract. Players like Mikko Rantanen in Colorado, Sebastian Aho in Carolina, Brayden Point in Tampa (though he’s a C), and Matthew Tkachuk in Calgary are all part of an impressive RFA group that will be looking to get paid this summer. They’re all more-or-less as good as Marner, and have the counting stats to show for it, but we don’t hear anything about them looking for $11.6-million a year. Because frankly, that’s absurd. Given Marner’s track record there isn’t much to truly separate him from this group, and John Tavares’ impact on his recent numbers have to be factored in. But both get conveniently overlooked when insiders weigh in on where this negotiation with the Leafs is going. There’s also the fact that Kane and Kucherov get dropped as high-priced comparables when both are on their third contracts that buy up far more (or exclusively) UFA years. Seems like an important point to overlook.

It makes you wonder whether or not the Leafs’ management group, namely Kyle Dubas, should try to get this thing in hand and put their own message out there. Maybe the Leafs aren’t supposed to engage in this back-and-forth, but what if Dubas just went on the radio or television and said, when asked about this difficult negotiation that “There’s a big crop of good RFA comparables coming up this summer, so we’ll have to look at how things work out” or something along those lines. Perhaps a quick explainer on how buying UFA versus RFA years works. I think this would in some way take away from the bubble of “$11.6-million” talk that Marner’s camp has created, and quiet some of this nonsense about Kane and Kucherov.

By repeatedly being able to leak this talking point over and over, Marner’s side has drummed up a substantial amount of anchoring bias to that huge number Matthews will be taking in starting next season. People are pinned to it, and anything less now will appear as a bit of a discount. It might frustrating to watch from a fan perspective, but in terms of playing this media game, it really is impressive. And maybe it could only work in a place like Toronto.



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  • Derian Hatcher

    Well, while the Center of the Universe holds its breath for every single tweet about the Leafs and Marner, the rest of us peasants in other parts of Canada put our feet up, grab our popcorn and laugh at the inevitability of the implosion of “Canada’s Team (LOL)”.

    Remember when JT signed on Canada Day and the parade route was being mapped out, but then the Leafs lost out in the first round again? Sort of like that. Dubas “we can and we will” quote may turn out to be, “I thought we could but now we can’t”. This is better than Seinfeld.

    • Habsuck

      LMAO, I love how we live in NON leaf fans heads. These Lego playing losers cant help but read about Canada’s team. It is AWESOME! The best part is that their is so much empty space in those heads that they become consumed with all news that is leafs related. Doesn’t get any better than that. We will always be the top story and when we do win the cup these morons heads will explode! LOL, who still watches Seinfeld, BAHAHAHAHA, Loser says what?

      • Derian Hatcher

        “We” ? Who’s “we” ? The fart catching leaf fans who plan the parade every time they sign someone? Or the owners of the empty seats that would rather get boiled in the lounge than return to their seats after an intermission? Young Mitchy boy is he perfect leaf …entitled, spoiled, arrogant. Better get daddy involved n negotiations and feed that pooch Dreger our demands that leaf fans will slobber up like always.

  • aim55@live.ca

    Okay center icemen get a premium I get it, so let me settle this so Kyle can get on with other team business and the # is 10616 that’s a mil givin for a premium center okay let’s get on with making a deal for that righthand d-man that can take the number one spot that also brings physicality to his side much like Muzzin brought. Also better find a capable backup you know like the one you let getaway in Mac looks good in the playoffs right? What a mess that Kyle has created himsef. Maybe Shanny you should’ve kept the mngt group together until you had everyone signed before you turned this group over to a Rookie GM look at all the mistakes made in his first year hope he can rebound in year two. But it doesn’t look good at this point does it?