Game 4 preview: Mitch Marner vs. The World

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Spring naturally invites reflection and with the Toronto Maple Leafs trailing the Boston Bruins 2-1 in their first-round series, it’s time for the annual player referendum. Mitch Marner’s entire career has come under scrutiny after three sub-par efforts — both real and perceived — and he’s been isolated by fans and analysts for the team’s offensive struggles.
The range and polarity of the Leafs’ fan base invite a wide range of takes, some of which are just the dreary product of an ecosystem that rewards vitriol and hyperbole fused together. In the eyes of the Bad Faith Faction, Marner isn’t working hard enough, or he’s taking circuitous routes to the puck to purposefully avoid contact, or he’s not generating enough offense as a top-tier playmaker.
Facts give way to frustration this time of year. Marner, more than any Maple Leafs player, is innately aware of the criticism that surrounds him and his teammates every year. He hasn’t been good enough in this series, not for a player of his calibre, or if you’re in the camp that likes to view hockey through the prism of capology, he hasn’t produced at a level commensurate to his salary.
It must feel like 20-on-1 from Marner’s vantage point. He now has the opportunity to silence his critics for good, with the Matthews-Marner era essentially hanging in the balance Saturday night. Marner has only generated one point in three games, a seeing-eye pass to Matthew Knies that opened the scoring in Game 3. He’s been better offensively than given credit for, generating four rebounds through the series, he’s looking for his teammates and he’s had to operate as David Pastrnak’s primary defender, largely keeping Boston’s best player in check.
The idea that Marner doesn’t care enough is straight up bullshit. Marner has been destined to play in the NHL since he was a teenager. I saw a 12-year-old Marner light up the Bell Challenge Cup for the Vaughan Kings with my own eyes. He’s wanted to lead the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup since he’s been able to lace his own skates. You can criticize Marner for his lack of offensive production, or if you want to be accurate, you can excoriate him for his dreadful showing on the penalty kill but the idea he doesn’t care enough is straight up bullshit. We have enough data points to analyze the game meaningfully in 2024 and it’s ridiculous to resort to this type of shock-jock analysis, in the supposed centre of the hockey world.
William Nylander is expected to return to the lineup for Game 4, providing the Maple Leafs with a necessary offensive boost. Although Nylander registered 98 points during the regular season, it’s difficult to project how he’ll fare while dealing with a migraine. Auston Matthews has lived up to his end up of the bargain as The Most Dangerous Man on the Ice. It’s Hockey Night in Canada and oh baby, Marner has the chance to change the narrative tonight. It’s Mitch Marner versus The World.

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