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Photo Credit: © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs are banking on Marner’s agent caving on October 1st, and he probably will

Yesterday Katya Knappe at Pension Plan Puppets published a very good piece about the Marner situation that does exactly as its title says: Blows away the smoke, and shows that his choice is actually quite simple. The basic premise is that, as the Leafs get closer to opening night on October 2nd, the way they’ve boxed in Marner gets tighter and tighter until the switch flips and they simply can’t go beyond a certain point. At season’s start, that point is around $9.75-million annually. It only gets worse after that because, as you’ll no doubt remember from the Nylander contract, the first year cap hit prorates as you cut deeper into the season.

As Knappe goes on to point out, everything else around these huge numbers, like the $11-12-million dollar asks and the absurd $15-million qualifying offers that we’ve heard about in recent days, is just noise.

Forget anything you may have heard over the last few days about deals that might have been offered in the summer before the current Leafs roster was set. None of that matters. That’s the smoke. There is little to no chance now for any kind of long- or even medium-term deal because there isn’t space for a high enough AAV. This is the reality: Marner wants the Auston Matthews contract, and he can’t have it. Not “shouldn’t have it”, not “isn’t worth it” or any other consideration. He can’t have it.

This also goes back to what Earl Schwartz covered here at TLN last month when the Clarkson deal went through, where he outlined three sort of deadlines with the cap hits that can realistically be absorbed at that point. It more or less boiled down to this: $8.5-million AAV by October 27th, $9-million by October 15th, and $9.5-million by October 3rd. But these are presented by Schwartz as long term options (you know, back when things seemed sane), and since we know now that there’s essentially zero chance Marner will agree to one of these numbers on a 6-7 year deal, it’s going to have to be a bridge deal that falls below that upper limit, which is around $9.75-million just before the season starts.

I mean, this shouldn’t be too hard to picture considering that would be by far the richest bridge in NHL history, and to be frank I’d be pretty critical of the Leafs if they handed that much out. But regardless of how we’ll all feel about it, that’s the decision facing Marner and his agent, and the Leafs have angled it that way on purpose. There’s no offer sheet coming, no money to be made in Europe, just a sign or sit choice emerging more and more by the day.

When I went to do some digging about how this whole situation over the last couple days, I asked a few people about whether or not this recent media storm is just more posturing from each side or if those astronomical numbers were actually real. It was hard to get an answer on that because Marner’s camp has actually gone a bit quiet, but it was clear that people in the know are now tracking a “wait and see” game the Leafs have set up to call Darren Ferris’s bluff by October 1st. After that, all bets are off and things get extremely difficult to maneuver, as outlined above. There’s no doubt Marner’s side is aware of that, and now it’s just about seeing if they cave to it. My money’s on them folding when the walls close in.