Toronto Maple Leafs: Short Term Deal for Marner Is Smart

The Toronto Maple Leafs are finding themselves faced only with bad options.

As the Mitch Marner saga drags on, and the Toronto Maple Leafs themselves remain silent, we’re left to try and interpret the situation through rumours and propaganda, of which there is a lot:

-Marner won’t sign for longer than five years.

Marner wants Auston Matthews money.

– Marner doesn’t care about other comparables.

This is all we really know, and we don’t even really know if it’s true, but I think it’s at least fair to say that this is Marner’s negotiating position.

So what do the Leafs do?

Short Term Is Smart

For a player, signing a series of short-term contracts that keeps you in line with the salary cap escalation, and rewards you for your accomplishments (as opposed to guessing what those accomplishments might be and paying you accordingly) is the best thing you can do.  Buy an insurance policy to protect your future earnings against injury and you’re good to go.

For the team, they are hoping to sign you to a deal that returns value as the cap goes up which gives them an advantage.

But there is a lot of risk in such a strategy because the player might not work out.

With Marner, that’s unlikely, but it’s also unlikely that they’ll get him at such a low cost that future years are a team-friendly discount in the way that Morgan Rielly’s contract currently is.

So what’s so bad about the short term?

If a player is going to sign a contract that expires when he is an unrestricted free-agent, then that’s a bad risk for the team.  Auston Matthews will be a UFA when his deal expires in 2024.  However, the compensation the Leafs received for allowing that is that Matthews was already listed in the Athletic’s Best Contracts in the NHL List before it even kicks in.

At $11.634 million, Matthews is one of the highest paid players there is, but contracts have already escalated to the point where this is a team-friendly deal.   In a league where 50 point player Kevin Hayes makes $7 +, Matthews deal is looking pretty sweet.  Not to mention that TV and Expansion and Gambling are going to drive the NHL salary cap up in the coming years.

In exchange for a shorter team and allowing him to potentially be a UFA, the Toronto Maple Leafs get one of the best players in the NHL on a team-friendly deal.

As this relates to Marner, however, it won’t work.  The Leafs can’t have Marner, Nylander and Matthews all expiring at the same time, and Marner won’t go beyond five years.

So a five or six year deal that sees Marner become a UFA when it’s done is impossible under current parameters.  If he’s not gonna be a UFA, then it’s not going to be possible to get him on a team-friendly deal.

This can lead to a solution, however. The Leafs can overpay Marner a little bit in exchange for him still being Leafs property when his deal is done.

And paying Elite Players in the NHL is never a bad thing. If you are like the Leafs and refuse to give money or term to mid-range guys, then you can afford it.

With no real need to get a team-friendly deal here, the Leafs can pay Marner a slight bit more than he’s worth and he’ll still only be able to negotiate with the Leafs when it’s done.

Whether for one year, or four years, what is the difference?  He’s still an RFA when it’s done.

One, two, three or four years – it doesn’t matter.  Paying Marner anything between $9 and $11  isn’t optimal, but it’s also not going to really make a huge difference – at the end of the day, you pay your core players and be happy about it.

Expect Marner to sign a deal for between one and three years.