Even during the dullest moments of the hockey offseason, you could probably find at least two people arguing about Mitch Marner.
The debates really revved up this week, however, with reports surfacing from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, along with Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger from TSN (among others).
Reports indicate a wide variety of possibilities, from shorter “bridge” deals to long-term contracts, basically all of them with eye-popping numbers.
Let’s consider the many ins and outs of the Maple Leafs’ cap situation, and how different Marner deals might fit in, by looking at things on a year-by-year basis. Cap Friendly was a major resource for this post.
2019-20, year one: Don’t bet on a one-year pact, but this is a good spot to discuss the most immediate squeeze.
Toronto must wait to put Nathan Horton ($5.35M) and David Clarkson ($5.25M) on LTIR and … that really gums up the works. To keep the details from making brains pop like corn, it figures to be tight, especially if Marner gets “in the universe” of $11M.
The Maple Leafs’ defense figures to be different after this season with Cody Ceci ($4.5M), Jake Muzzin ($4M), and Tyson Barrie ($2.75M after retention) entering contract years. GM Kyle Dubas is full of enough surprises, so who knows what lies ahead on defense?
2020-21, year two: In Tuesday’s “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reports that a two-year deal was pondered, “a few sources threw cold water on that.”
Regardless, a big change could come after two years, as Frederik Andersen figures to get a big raise from $5M after 2019-20. Maybe a “bridge” deal would make it slightly easier to keep Andersen?
2021-22, year three: A variety of reporters point to a three-year “bridge” deal as one of the most likely possibilities at this time.
It’s also maybe the trickiest scenario for the Maple Leafs, something mentioned by the likes of TSN’s Bob McKenzie:
Marner and other RFAs might follow a path where a three-year deal is, functionally, a four-year deal to get to unrestricted free agency. Essentially, Marner would sign for X over three years, with a salary hitting a peak at year three, so that would set the stage for a qualifying offer in year four. Years five and beyond would then be open to UFA. TSN’s Darren Dreger illustrates this as well:
If it’s three years, Marner would need a new contract (technically or not) during the same offseason as Morgan Rielly. Reilly is just 25 and carries a cheap $5M cap hit, so the price could really grow. One would think Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2M) might get squeezed out.
We could also start to see Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren needing new deals around 2023 or shortly after, depending upon when Toronto starts burning those entry-level years.
2022-23, year four: If the above bridge deal with a high third-year salary happened, this is where Marner’s cost would balloon. It’s also possible – though improbable – that the two sides would simply sign a four-year deal, sending Marner to UFA status in the summer of 2023 without the gymnastics.
Following that fourth season, Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5M) and Andreas Johnsson ($3.4M) would need new deals.
Any small and medium-sized decisions would need to be weighed by how much room they leave for bigger ones, and not just potentially Marner …
2023-24, year five: Two whoppers expire in five years: Auston Matthews ($11.64M) and William Nylander ($6.96M).
It’s tough to imagine the Maple Leafs set the stage for Marner to have the opportunity to hit the UFA market during the same summer as Matthews and Nylander, which is why you don’t hear about a five-year solution very often.
Let’s be honest: that scenario could break Hockey Twitter, the Internet, or even humanity’s collective, slipping grip on something resembling sanity.
2024-25, year six: The six-year possibility doesn’t get mentioned much, but Tavares’ $11M expires after 2024-25. What if Marner figured that much of that Tavares money could transfer to his third contract? Could six years be a sweet spot for Toronto’s cost certainty, Marner getting paid, and present something of a compromise on UFA years?
(Unlikely, but just saying.)
2025-26, year seven, and 2026-27, year eight: McKenzie reports that there have been offers “in the universe” of $11M for seven or eight-year terms, but Marner reportedly isn’t satisfied because he’d get less than Matthews’ $11.64M while also signing for more than Matthews’ five-year term.
We can debate whether Marner would be worth $11M all day (motions to increasingly volatile Hockey Twitter), but Marner’s reluctance to go long-term is understandable, as for all we know, the cap ceiling could be much higher in 2025-26 and beyond.
Unfortunately for anxious Maple Leafs fans, Friedman, Dreger, MacKenzie, and others point to considerable divides behind Marner’s camp and the Maple Leafs.
As the above timeline shows, Toronto faces a host of complicated decisions, and plenty of tough questions even beyond Marner. Make no mistake about it, though: this Marner contract situation is absolutely pivotal, and it’s a tough nut to crack.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.