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Mitch Marner wants to stay in Toronto, but is it that simple?

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Photo credit:Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
Locker room clean-out day media availabilities are nonsense. There is a faint hope that someone will say something that offers some optimistic glimpse into the future, but nothing said changes the fact that the Leafs lost in the first round and it looks like there is more than one summer’s worth of work in getting the Maple Leafs back on track.
For the most part, the Leafs players humbly threw themselves on the mercy of the Maple Leafs media and Toronto sports fans on Monday, giving the cliched answers about how much they believe in each other, how disappointed they couldn’t get it done this year, and how they want nothing more than to return next season. Mitch Marner followed that script for the most part with one slight deviation:
“We are looked up to as kind of Gods here” is a pretty loaded statement on a day when it was going to be impossible for Mitch Marner to say the right thing to a large segment of his audience. Marner having 3 points in 7 games against the Bruins and missing coverage on David Pastrnak for the series-winning goal already made supporting the $11M winger a tough assignment, but a God comparison certainly complicates things further.
A reasonable person would probably acknowledge Marner’s history of poor communication through the media and would give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s saying Toronto puts Maple Leafs players on a pedestal and they are treated with great admiration and the players want to live up to that. He could also be insinuating that people expect the Maple Leafs to be infallible and there is an impossible standard to live to. I think that would be a pretty fair statement as well. If your opinion of Mitch Marner is that he somehow doesn’t care or isn’t trying, that is a “you being wrong issue”, not an issue with Marner.
The thing is words matter and Marner chose his poorly. On a day when his audience demands humbling, he is elevating himself and his peers to deities and even if the context is the amount of unconditional love heaped upon him, the thing is people don’t expect gods to learn or change, and today he should have been focusing on how he will be better.
There is also a decided split in how Marner is treated in Toronto. There is plenty of unwavering support for him and plenty of interest in who he is off the ice, and then there is an exhausted and angry fanbase that is fed up with the lack of playoff results. As in most cases, the true interpretation of Mitch Marner lies somewhere in the grey area between the extremes, but Marner’s comments certainly didn’t earn him respect from one side while at the same time came off as somewhat disrespectful of his biggest supporters.
This incident will have absolutely no bearing on what comes next for Mitch Marner but it is safe to say that his future in Toronto is less certain than ever.
Marner spoke about “the goal” of being with the Maple Leafs long-term but there are a lot of complexities to that. Elliotte Friedman suggested on 32 Thoughts that the Maple Leafs finally seem ready to move away from the “Core Four forwards” next season. The Leafs being locked in on Auston Matthews and William Nylander certainly lends to their return being more certain and in Matthews’ case an absolute lock.
John Tavares’ contract, even in the final year seems unmovable, as does John Tavares. His family is very much settled in Toronto and a reasonable deal to take him into retirement with the Leafs seems feasible. Marner’s situation is different.
Marner’s contract is moveable. He is playing at a level that teams would add him in a heartbeat, despite his playoff performance and communication skills. The Leafs also aren’t looking at a player who is going to come in at a team-friendly cap hit. Even if there is no truth to Marner wanting to be paid like Auston Matthews, history shows that he wants to be paid better than William Nylander. Even if he’s paid at a William Nylander level, is that still the direction the Leafs want to go? While I’m sure the Leafs would love to retain their star if they can, there are mounting concerns in the Leafs lineup. Defence remains a priority, the second-line centre position is becoming an issue, and there is always the issue of whether a game-breaking goaltender can make the difference for Toronto. All of this before discussing if spreading out talent is in the Leafs’ best interest rather than going with top-heavy offensive skill.
There is the complexity of Marner’s no-movement clause that needs to be considered. Players with no movement clauses have been moved before though, and if Mitch Marner wants to avoid a lame-duck season knowing the Leafs have no intention of signing him, he could provide the Leafs with a list of acceptable landing spots. It would certainly hurt the Leafs’ return for Marner, but everything about this decision and outcome is a bit unfortunate and any potential return will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Toronto sports fans, even those rushing Mitch Marner out the door.
The Marner quote is a drop in the bucket of what will likely be a Leafs fan civil war this summer over what the future should hold for Mitch. If the Leafs do make a decision to change direction it hopefully won’t be based on tone-deaf quotes and a pair of gloves thrown in disappointment.

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