I’ll try to keep this brief, as Twitter has seemingly beaten this dead horse of a topic for so long it’s since turned into a foul-tasting jerky.
Mitch Marner is planning to meet with other NHL teams this week, the first of his reported rendezvous set to take place as early as tomorrow afternoon. And while Marner may technically still be under contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the moment – his rights belonging to them as an RFA – courting outside suitors during a tense negotiation saga is an unimpeachable right afforded to him the CBA of which the youngster should take full advantage.
Frankly, I think most fans would agree with that sentiment. The situation Marner finds himself in right now is entirely foreign to nearly every single keyboard warrior (myself included) weighing in on this perceived stalemate. We’re talking about a 22-year-old kid here, after all – coming off the best individual scoring season from any Leaf since Mats Sundin’s identical 94-point campaign in 1997, and who wants nothing more than to secure his financial future to the greatest possible degree.
Nobody can blame Marner for that. In fact, it’s the smart thing to do.
The NHL is structured in a way which more or less strips young players of any control they’d otherwise hold over their contract status. Employees aren’t meant to be at the complete mercy of their employer. That is simply not how a workforce functions in the real world. So if you happen to be someone routinely pounding the table for a more labour-forward league, criticizing Marner for exercising the very few rights does have is decidedly hypocritical.
Is everyone clear on that? Cool. Now let’s get to the hard part.
Okay, y'all need to chill with the Mitch Marner offer sheet/asking price reactions.
It's June. We haven't even gotten to the "playing overseas" rumours yet. It's not just Mitch. This is what Ferris does. pic.twitter.com/HagznKHxRG
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) June 24, 2019
I long for the day when the name “Darren Ferris” regains the relative anonymity it once held and slowly fades out of Leafs circles. We didn’t appreciate that golden age enough, my friends. And now we’re paying for it.
An agent’s job is to milk their client’s team for every single penny they’re worth. It’s simple logic, really. Your primary representative should, in all honesty, be conducting their business with nothing except your best interests at heart. That’s what you pay them for, right?
Well, that last part can be somewhat of a double-edged sword.
You see, a player’s “best interests” can occasionally extend to areas outside of pure monetary gain. Personal relationships and reputations tend to be treated with great importance as well, particularly when operating within an industry as regrettably old fashioned and “honour”-based as hockey.
Sure, your M.O. might be to take every single general manager to the wall in negotiations, and that is entirely your prerogative. But those decisions tend to have consequences, and those consequences tend to carry risks. Bridges can be burned. Pleasantries can be broken.
Darren Ferris doesn’t seem care for any of that. His track record as a player agent (specifically when it comes to clients seeking their post-ELC extensions) is riddled with daytime soap operas eerily similar to the one unfolding before us right now.
There’s a distinct method to Ferris’ madness:
- Declare your client to be in “no rush” to sign an extension, deferring instead to their “respect of the process”.
2. Partake in a high-stakes game of chicken by carrying negotiations throughout the entire offseason and into October, therein handcuffing your client’s team during the July 1st free agency period.
3. As MLHS’s Kevin Papetti so wonderfully summarized in his tweet above, threaten the “very real” possibility of your client beginning the regular season overseas (most likely in Switzerland, a Ferris locale of choice) in the hopes of forcing said team’s hand.
4. Have the team inevitably call your bluff after one final boardroom stand, and proceed to sign your client to what is ultimately an underwhelming dollar figure when accounting for the path which led you here.
Ferris represents ten players who conceivably fit the category of “NHL regular” last season, per PuckPedia. Four of them – Marner being the fifth, with his saga yet to play out in full – have seen their post-ELC negotiations follow this EXACT SAME SCRIPT. As in, down the letter. It’s remarkable, really. At least they’re consistent.
“What about Taylor Hall. Mike? He’s listed as a Ferris client and signed his extension with the Oilers without threatening a holdout”. You are correct, valued reader. You are correct.
Although, it was Orr Hockey Group who represented Hall when he re-upped for another 7 years in Edmonton back in 2013, with the former first-overall pick recently making the switch over to the Ferris-led DHG Sports Agency on August 22, 2018. With Hall now one year out from his own free agency and claiming a powerful agent in his corner, it should come as no surprise that Ray Shero has been forced to publicly deny recent reports of his star winger supposedly not being interested in signing an extension with the New Jersey Devils.
Rinse and repeat. A new cycle has begun.
This isn’t meant as a criticism of Ferris’ zealousness to do right by his clients. It’s what every young athlete fighting for leverage within a league designed specifically to give them none should hope for. But that doesn’t mean context should be ignored entirely.
Mitch Marner grew up a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As fate would have it, he has since been drafted by them, developed by them, insulated within a core made up of similarly talented young stars and father figure veterans, and been used as the focal point of the most ambitious and successful free agent recruitment process of the salary cap era, as well.
Marner’s day-to-day itinerary is as seemingly comfortable as hockey can provide. On off days, Marner has the freedom to roam the streets of his hometown (possibly whilst shooting a lucrative commercial spot for one of the biggest companies in the entire world with his best friend, Auston Matthews), then don the jersey he idolized as a child on game nights before taking his place alongside one of the sport’s premier superstars in John Tavares.
Financial security is important, and that will undoubtedly be given to Marner regardless of where he eventually signs. But there is something to be said about not throwing away a good thing.
Marner could have easily found himself thrust down a path similar to that of Connor McDavid; a game-breaking talent stranded on a sinking team that continues to waste precious year after precious year of his prime. But he wasn’t. He was chosen by the Leafs as a teenager, proceeding to drag them (not by himself, mind you) into contender status, and set himself up to earn a place in franchise lore the likes of which have been seen by perhaps no one before him.
If that is all worth less than what will ultimately boil down to the annual difference of roughly $1 million, then so be it. But that should be Marner’s decision to make, not Ferris’. Right now, it’s unclear as to who is gripping the wheel.
There is a bright side, however. While the Marner Saga may be following the same old tired script, history has already shown fans its ending.
SPOILER ALERT: it’s a happy one.