Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner Is Not Different

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 4: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs returns to the dressing room after warm ups before playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Scotiabank Arena on April 4, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 4: Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs returns to the dressing room after warm ups before playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Scotiabank Arena on April 4, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have not played an actual hockey game for over a month, and yet the conversation surrounding them only continues to hit a fever pitch.

Are we really about to go through seven months of this exact same nonsense?

Mitch Marner needs a new contract. This is a topic that seemingly no one these days can go three whole seconds without talking about, serving as a form of content heaven for any Leafs-centric media outlets (like us!) and utter hell for practically everyone else.

Marner’s situation is not unlike many that have come before him. He’s a high-scoring winger in his early-20’s who is coming off a career-best season spent almost entirely alongside a generational Leaf centre, and who is reportedly allowing the negotiation process on his next deal to be spearheaded by his notoriously steadfast agent and unusually influential father.

Sound familiar? 

William Nylander may not have strung 90 points together in the final year of his ELC (probably because he also wasn’t gifted a secured role alongside John Tavares, loads of power play time, and a seemingly unlimited amount rope from his coach when it came to on-ice lapses) but the majority of details from his situation a year prior are incredibly close to the one Marner finds himself in today.

Well, other than perception, of course.

It is truly incredible to observe the sheer number of Leaf fans, who once made up what was apparently the most fiscally conservative group of people on planet earth when Nylander needed an extension, now froth at the mouth to break the bank for Marner.

Keep in mind, Nylander and Marner produced at near-identical clips after their first two full NHL seasons, respectively; Marner with 69 points and Nylander with 61.

Even their advanced numbers – though I doubt that anyone who jubilantly buried Nylander last year while championing Marner right now cares much for them, anyway – were practically the same. Nylander put forth a 51.4% CF/60 at 5v5 throughout his sophomore spin, per HockeyReference. Marner, comparatively, finished with a 52.9%, albeit doing so while starting 56.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone compared to Nylander’s 49.8%.

So from a pure production perspective, Nylander and Marner produced at more or less the same level right up until the latter was cemented on Toronto’s top line next to an elite NHL centre from day one of training camp, while the former missed the first three months of action, was separated from his normal running mate upon return, and then unexpectedly thrust into an unfamiliar position in the middle of a brutal playoff series.

But, sure. It is definitely fair to judge both players on the same curve, right?

Thank you for agreeing with me, Tim from Sutton, Ontario, whose Twitter display picture is that of a poorly framed selfie wearing a pair of crooked Oakleys and whose bio features roughly 86 hashtags, one of which is almost certainly “#bleedblue”.

No caps, of course. Always no caps.

What makes the contrast between these two scenarios even more puzzling, however, lies in the reaction of the fanbase to yesterday’s bombshell.

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, which is basically no one, TSN’s Darren Dreger hopped on Leafs Lunch yesterday afternoon to state that he not only believes the Marner camp will push negotiations past July 1st, but that they are prepared to meet with other teams when the NHL’s RFA interview window opens on June 26th, as well.

That seems like kind of a big deal, no? If Dreger is to be believed, this development means that one of the Maple Leafs’ most important young players is reportedly expected to conduct a courting process with a number of opposing front offices while his rights still technically belong to Toronto. And the only way to stop him, apparently, is by giving in to his demands.

Interesting. Now, allow me to ask you one very simple question: What would the general reaction have been to the EXACT SAME report if it was in reference to Nylander, instead?

Save your breath, I’ll answer it for you; utter chaos.

Nylander was downright crucified by a large portion of this fanbase – irreparably so, in some cases – for holding out in favour of his own financial interests less than a calendar year ago. Which, frankly, seems pretty hilarious now in hindsight.

Lewis Gross, Nylander’s agent, did not issue a single public statement at any point during his client’s negotiation process, either in person or on social media. In fact, each of the Maple Leafs front office, Gross, and Nylander’s father, Michael Nylander, were more or less silent from the beginning of their talks all the way up to when the contract was signed in buzzer-beating fashion.

The Marner camp, however? Not so much.

Darren Ferris, Marner’s agent, actually opted to lob public barbs at the Leafs organization for apparently “lowballing” his client back in February, choosing to do so mere hours after Auston Matthews signed his own massive extension which then prompted Ferris to embark upon an apology tour the very next day and hastily back-track his previous statement before declaring that “Mitch will be a Leaf for a long time”.

Nothing backs up such a declaration of loyalty quite like openly flirting with the Leafs’ rivals a little over three months later.

Then there’s Paul Marner, father to Mitch, who told The Athletic’s Jonas Siegal in December of 2018 that he believes:

  • a) his son’s ice time as a rookie was, quote, “underwhelming” (Marner averaged the third-most minutes of any Leaf forward in his rookie year)
  • b) Mitch is overlooked when compared to other Leafs stars (like Matthews, for example, who has won a Calder Trophy, plays a more difficult position, and has scored 44 more goals than Marner in 29 fewer games)
  • c) Mitch should be seriously considered for the Leafs’ vacant captaincy.

It’s ironic, really. For a group that so vehemently mandated for any contract talks to be saved until after the season in order to avoid any distractions, they sure managed to engage in a lot of distracting. And by their own doing, no less.

Now, there is obviously a lot of grey area here, of course. The public does not know if these statements were driven by Marner himself and simply communicated through the vessels of his representatives or if they stemmed from the minds of both his father and agent and no one else.

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here and go with the latter.

But even when operating under this assumption, it’s still shocking to observe the messages of support that are currently being directed towards Marner from the very same group that, as recently as one year ago, completely decimated another young man on this team for attempting to do, at the crux of it all, the very same thing.

Only, in Nylander’s case, there was no Athletic tirade at which to funnel one’s rage, no cobbled-together apology tour, and no report of using the possibility of jumping ship as leverage.

Mitch Marner is a terrific player. He’s one of the most exciting young talents in hockey today, whose game appears to embody the pure jubilation one feels when playing the sport at its highest level. Any level-headed Leafs fan knows this, and should want him wearing their uniform for a long, long time.

Unfortunately, level-headiness is not a readily available trait within this fanbase.

The stubbornness shared by a select component of Leafs fandom has led to an impenetrable cloud of ignorance; of the facts, past results, and current context. To champion for Marner to make upwards of $11 million while the Maple Leafs stare down a cap crunch, only to then turn around and spew hatred at Nylander for demanding far less and, at the time, in far less claustrophobic circumstances makes both zero and complete sense.

Think whatever you want about the on-ice contributions of Marner and Nylander. Free speech is the pillar of a functioning democracy, after all. But to twist these two similar realities into aligning with your differing pre-determined opinions, and then force those opinions on others, is just not the right thing to do.

Marner will likely sign with the Maple Leafs in time to suit up for next season, just as Nylander did. This particular impasse carries a good chance of not going down to the literal last second, either. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom leads up to believe.

But if the events from this past season and beyond offer a glimpse into how venomous this situation’s discourse is projected to be, well, we’re in trouble. Big time.

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