Toronto Maple Leafs Can’t Play Too Much Hardball With Mitch Marner

The Toronto Maple Leafs are embroiled in a contract dispute with core player Mitch Marner.

The other day, the Athletic broke a story regarding offers that the Toronto Maple Leafs have given the Marner camp.

According to James Mirtle, the Leafs have worked on offers in the three, four, and seven year ranges.

Marner – obviously – has yet to accept one. 

Despite the fact that these reported offers are far and away above the market value of the player, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still looking at opening the season without Marner.

The Main Problem

The main problem is one of leverage.

For all intents and purposes, the Leafs cannot trade Marner and they can’t realistically threaten to let him sit out the season.

So what reason does the player have to capitulate?

The reason the Leafs are in such a weak position here is because their team is so strong.  They are – essentially – a victim of their own success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL.  They’ve got three or four of the best hockey players in the entire world on their roster, they’ve got more elite players than anyone else, and they’re in a great position entering the current season – as long as Marner is on board.

The Leafs are set to enter the 2019-20 season with the best roster they’ve ever assembled.  It’s arguably the best roster anyone has assembled in the salary cap era, and the Leafs have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

The competitive window in which to realistically expect to win the Cup is very small. A team can’t afford to blow off a chance at winning to save a few dollars.

They couldn’t do it last year with William Nylander, and they sure as hell can’t do it this year with Marner.  The opportunity cost to exercise their leverage over Marner is huge, and they can’t do it.

It would be 100% better to pay Mitch Marner too much money than it would be to punt the year in which John Tavares and Auston Matthews are going to be the best they’ll ever be as a combo.

The rarity of putting together a roster like this is such that you can’t afford to waste a year.  It’d be better just to shut up and pay him.

As for a trade, good luck.

The unfortunate reality for the Leafs is that teams do not win trades in which they give away elite players.  If you traded Marner for say Mikko Rantanen, you’re still stuck in the same problem of having to negotiate an RFA deal.

If you trade him for futures, you are making your team worse now, and all the reasons for not letting him sit out the season apply here as well.

So a trade is unwinnable, and making him sit is untenable.

Therefore, Marner has all the leverage.

The Toronto Maple Leafs can play  hardball, but only to a point.