Recent news and rumors have emerged to complicate the Marner negotiations. What’s happening there? In this post, I will try to explore some of the rumors that have popped up recently about current and past – or are they – Toronto Maple Leafs.
Item One: Patrick Marleau Won’t Be a Shark
Immediately after the 2018-19 season ended, Patrick Marleau’s contract became an albatross. What looked good when he first signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs suddenly became the elephant in the room. All the talk centered on the pessimistic belief that the team would never divest itself of this drain on the salary cap.
Then, in a surprising move, Marleau waived his no movement clause and was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, so that the Hurricanes could buy out Marleau’s contract. Marleau was then expected to sign for the league minimum and take his family back home to California where he would wind down his career with the San Jose Sharks, a team that he almost helped build and with which he spent 19 seasons.
We have learned that those plans and wishes will not be fulfilled. Nothing happened and Marleau remained unsigned. Now we understand why. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that he had spoken with Marleau’s agent Pat Brisson on Wednesday and Brisson reported that, “the fit is not there.” Brisson then added that Marleau still wants to play and that he’s pursuing opportunities elsewhere.
I would be surprised if Marleau doesn’t sign a contract similar to the one that brought free agent Jason Spezza to the Maple Leafs. I can’t believe a team wouldn’t be willing to take a chance on a player with Marleau’s experience and character and someone who can still score 16 goals and 21 assists in a bottom-six role like he did last season.
Plus, last season with the Maple Leafs, Marleau seemed to be setting an NHL record about every five games or so. That should be something a team could promote, and fans would enjoy watching a future Hall-of-Famer. As a low-cost, bottom-six player, 37 points doesn’t seem that bad.
There are rumors that the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes might be interested. The Oilers are thin and young on their wings. Or, here’s a flyer, is there any chance that Marleau returns to the Maple Leafs for another season? Stranger things have happened. Fans didn’t like him at $6 million per season, would they like him better at $700,000?
Item Two: Could the Maple Leafs Have Signed Marner for $8 Million Last Season?
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons recently reported that less than one year ago, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas could have signed Mitch Marner for eight years and $8 million a year but they declined because the team thought it was too rich a contract at the time, (from ‘SIMMONS: Racism in hockey needs to disappear at all levels of the game,’ The Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons 08/31/2019).
If there’s any truth to that rumor, it might explain why Marner’s agent Darren Ferris is playing hardball now. It would be a bit embarrassing to have offered your client at a contract at $8 million for eight seasons, have that contract rejected, and then have the team sign teammate Auston Matthews to such an advantageous contract at $11.634 million AAV for five seasons. That’s like getting your nose rubbed in it.
Again, if this is accurate, now that the worm has turned and the Maple Leafs no longer have the leverage, I can see why Ferris is taking such a hard line. As a result, both the Marner camp and Maple Leafs management know it will take far more than $8 million per season to ink the young restricted free agent. When emotions get involved, logic seldom prevails; it’s wrong but it’s life.
Being outside the discussions, we have no way to know what really happened and, when the dust settles, I wonder if anyone will reveal the specifics. I doubt it.
Item Three: Where Will Jake Gardiner Eventually Sign?
So where will Jake Gardiner play this season? Sportsnet’s Luke Fox noted, “I see the best fits for Gardiner in Montreal or Detroit. Elliotte Friedman floated out Winnipeg as a possibility, which is interesting considering how close it is to his Lake Minnestonka home.”
One interesting photo, tweeted by Michael Russo, showed Gardiner wearing his old Leafs helmet during Octagon skate. Might that be an indication fo what Gardiner wants?
Fox noted, what he called, Wayne Simmonds’ “one-year redemption pact” with the New Jersey Devils, and suggests Gardiner might be seeking a similar deal as a way to show his back injuries are behind him (no pun intended).
Recent rumors, true or not, could complicate the Marner negotiations even more than they already are. One day, I hope someone fesses up about what really has been happening. Perhaps it’s just greed, or, there might be so much going on that it will soon become a movie.
Understanding all the motivations for this whole drama is way above my pay grade.