William Nylander

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Maple Leafs’ Marner mum on contract negotiations

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It’s not much, but for Toronto Maple Leafs fans willing to hang on anything said by still-unsigned restricted free agent Mitch Marner, it was at least something.

When Marner stepped in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday, he did undoubtedly knowing what the first line of questioning would be. And the second, and the third.

When is he going to sign?

“Hopefully sooner than later,” Marner said. “I want to be there for the start of camp, so hoping something can get done then.”

From there, Marner steered those questions toward his agent as he threw on his best pair dancing shoes and showed he could sidestep with the best of them.

If you’re looking for a t-shirt slogan, “You have to ask my agent” is right up there with the best of them in Toronto these days.

 

“My agent and Kyle are doing it, and they’re going to figure something out,” Marner said.

One thing Marner made pretty clear is he wouldn’t be at training camp without a contract.

“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so much risk with that. It’s just something you don’t want to risk.”

What about an offer sheet?

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Marner whipped out the agent line once again, while saying he’s trying to stay out of all of that “stuff.”

So the uncertainty hasn’t affected you?

“None,” he said, before once again talking about his agent’s role in the negotiations.

What about fans’ concerns that you may not sign a contract with the Maple Leafs.

“I’m leaving all of that to my agent right now,” he said.

Those agents, man. Ruining Toronto’s summer for the second year in a row.

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Marner seemed unfazed by it all and appears to be enjoying his summer.

Why wouldn’t he? He’s about to get paid in a major way, but the Maple Leafs or any number of teams that would be willing to lavish cash upon him if given the chance.

Marner’s situation is one of several playing out this summer. He’s not the only big-ticket RFA without a deal so far.

Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, Brayden Point in Tampa Bay, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado are just a few others. It’s become commonplace for big names without arbitration rights on the RFA list to let negotiations span the summer, if not further.

Marner’s contract is only illuminated better because of where he plays. Dominating two national TV broadcasters on a daily basis in Canada.

And the fear in Leafs Nations is made only worse knowing all-too-well where this path can lead.

William Nylander‘s contract last summer dragged right into the regular season and Nylander and the Maple Leafs felt those effects throughout the season.

The same scenario with Marner would be worse, given he’s the team’s leading point-getter from last season.

A Toronto native, Marner said he’s well-accustomed to the media and said his phone has been shut off for much of the summer.

Like he said, his agent is running the show. Marner’s merely the main protagonist who has yet to be revealed in a complex script.

When he will is anyone’s guess.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Maple Leafs, Avs make blockbuster trade featuring Kadri, Barrie

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If you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche almost seemed too quiet on free agent day … well, they combined for one whopper of a trade late on July 1.

It’s a lot to process, but here are the terms.

Maple Leafs receive:

  • Underrated right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie, with the Avs retaining half of his cap hit on a deal that expires after next season. So Barrie only costs $2.75M on Toronto’s cap.
  • RFA center Alex Kerfoot. He’s a sneaky-good two-way player, but doesn’t have a deal yet.
  • The Avalanche’s 2020 sixth-round pick.

Avalanche receive:

  • The biggest piece is Nazem Kadri, a talented center who’s nonetheless become a lightning rod for controversy after being suspended for two consecutive postseasons. As controversial as Kadri can be, he’s an excellent forward who carries only a $4.5M cap hit through 2021-22.
  • Defenseman Calle Rosen.
  • The Maple Leafs’ 2020 third-round pick.

Maple Leafs work some magic

Personally, I’ve almost always been impressed with Kyle Dubas’ work as Maple Leafs GM, yet I’ve also been a little sad that we haven’t seen him be too creative, what with a team that’s largely been put in place for him.

Well, a cap crunch certainly forced him to use his brain, and the results are impressive.

Via Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs now have about $11.1 million in cap space. They also still have some of their toughest work to do.

Most obviously, Mitch Marner is still an RFA who could conceivably eat up all of that $11.1M. The Maple Leafs have already seen the Montreal Canadiens throw out an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, and while Toronto would gladly match something close to that $8.4M+ range if that’s what came Marner’s way, there’s no guarantee that Toronto would enjoy such a manageable challenge.

Of course, there’s also no guarantee that any other NHL team will tender a viable offer sheet during this offseason.

The Maple Leafs also need to sort out Cody Ceci‘s situation, and Kerfoot himself is an RFA whose situation must be settled. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kerfoot is expected to file for salary arbitration, and the award could exceed $3M.

So, there’s still some uncertainty hovering around the Maple Leafs. The biggest factor revolves around sorting out Marner’s situation. To do so, Dubas might need to make even more moves, and you can’t totally rule out moving the rights to Kerfoot and/or Ceci as time goes along.

But, as is, the Maple Leafs are in a profoundly better situation on July 1 than they were even at the end of June.

One could argue that Barrie is Jake Gardiner‘s equal, nearly at Gardiner’s level, or even better. That might come down to personal taste. One thing that’s not debatable is that Barrie is a better fit. While Gardiner with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin meant a glut of left-handed defensemen, Barrie is a RHD. This immediately gives Toronto better balance on defense, as RHD was their biggest weakness.

Now people can debate Barrie vs. Rielly, even.

About the only bummer is that Barrie’s contract expires after 2019-20, and considering his lofty point totals, he may end up being too expensive to keep around. Then again, who’s to say that Dubas doesn’t make another swap that buys Toronto some cost certainty?

The longer term discussion is interesting, yet as it stands, this is a fantastic boost.

One could argue that Kadri is a better asset than Barrie, particularly since his contract runs through 2021-22 at that affordable $4.5M clip. Still, with John Tavares and Auston Matthews firmly planted ahead of Kadri, and with William Nylander as at least a plausible option at 3C at times, Kadri was expendable. Even beyond the whole “Sometimes Kadri sees red, then loses his mind and gets suspended, including during the playoffs” thing.

Kerfoot is an intriguing talent if Toronto can keep everyone together, too, so this is promising stuff.

Avalanche add some certainty, still have a bunch of cap space

On paper, I’m more excited about the Maple Leafs’ side of the deal, at least potentially. Right-handed defensemen of Barrie’s caliber just aren’t available very often, and certainly not at a $2.75M clip, even if it’s just for one season. And, depending upon how Toronto can manage things with Kerfoot, the drop off at center might not be that steep for Toronto.

Don’t let all the disdain for Kadri fool you, though. He’s very good, and was almost certainly overqualified as a 3C this past season. The Avalanche seemed primed to part ways with Barrie, what with his contract up after 2019-20, and rising defensive prospects possibly set to usurp him anyway, including Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, in particular.

The Avalanche remarkably have $27.125M in cap space left over, according to Cap Friendly. Mikko Rantanen will take a huge bit out of that, possibly at a level comparable to whatever Mitch Marner makes, and Andre Burakovsky might not be cheap, either. Nikita Zadorov also lingers as an RFA, yet there’s a chance the Avalanche might get yet another piece … might they also look at former Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner?

***

Overall, this is a fascinating trade between two young, exciting, rising, and well-run teams. We could very well be debating the merits of this one for some time, and heck, maybe a future Stanley Cup Final would be the ultimate lab to test the experiment?

In the cases of Colorado and Toronto, there’s also a “to be continued” element, as both teams have enormously important RFAs to re-sign. If this trade is any indication: buckle up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs get Johnsson, Kapanen locked up with extensions

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Kyle Dubas keeps checking off things from his summer to-do list as the negotiations with Mitch Marner continue. On Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they have extended both forwards Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen.

Kapenen gets a three-year deal worth $9.6 million ($3.2M AAV), while Johnsson signed a four-year, $13.6 million ($3.4M AAV) extension.

According to Cap Friendly, this put the Maple Leafs $6.9 million under the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling, and they can still place Nathan Horton on long-term injury reserve, allowing them to exceed that number by $5.3 million.

In his first full season in Toronto, Johnsson has a stellar rookie year. He scored 20 goals and recorded 43 points in 73 games. He finished eighth in voting for the Calder Trophy and just outside the top-three of forwards for the All-Rookie Team.

Kapanen tied for fifth on the Maple Leafs in scoring with 44 points and was one of seven players to reach 20 goals. He took advantage of William Nylander‘s early-season absence by netting 19 points in the team’s first 28 games. His production dipped a bit after the contract squabble ended, but still averaged 0.5 points per game the rest of the way. He’ll remain a restricted free agent the deal expires following the 2021-22 NHL season.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

It’s been a busy week for Dubas as the Maple Leafs GM has had to balance extending players with trying to free up cap space in order to bring Marner back. Patrick Marleau was dumped to the Carolina Hurricanes — and later bought out — while Johnsson and Kapanen were joined by Michael Hutchinson, who will likely serve as Frederik Andersen‘s backup next season.

The Marner negotiations continue and there’s still the talk of an offer sheet, which we’ll believe it if one ever actually materializes. But there’s still plenty of time for both signs to come to an agreement, which has already proven to be tricky. But when the free agent market opens Monday morning, that’s when things will get real.

“You always hope you don’t go right down to the final hour,” Dubas said at last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. “It seems to be a specialty of ours a little bit. We’ll try to avoid it this time.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

On Marner and teams paying the price for developing top talent

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Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe it’s time for the owners and the NHL to sit down and hash out something that makes sense so that the former doesn’t get punished when they draft and develop good players.

So that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have to worry about losing Mitch Marner because of cap problems.

So that the Winnipeg Jets don’t have to sell off assets, including perhaps some they’ve groomed since the day they drafted them, just to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor — also players born and bred in Winnipeg’s system.

The list goes on and on, from Brayden Point in Tampa to Mikko Rantanen in Colorado. There’s an endless drove of teams who have drafted great players and now have to potentially make their rosters worse just to afford them.

It all seems kind of backward.

Last week, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said something quite interesting while on TSN 1050’s OverDrive show, a sobering reminder to NHL teams right before the 2019 NHL Draft.

“If you draft good players and you develop good players, and they’re stars and they represent, basically, the future of your hockey club, you’re screwed,” he said.

We’re seeing that in Toronto right now. The Maple Leafs have had to pay millions to Auston Matthews — a draft pick — William Nylander — a draft pick — and now have to figure out a way to keep Marner — a draft pick — in the fold.

The argument there, of course, is that they didn’t have to go out and sign John Tavares in free agency. Or perhaps they should never have given Nylander what he wanted.

But teams have no choice these days. Drafted stars need to be supplemented with ones available through other channels to make a team competitive.

“These guys want to get paid,” McKenzie went on to add. “And there’s no external mechanism to settle a dispute between Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs other than him withholding his services with the Leafs giving him close to what he wants. You kind of have to pick your poison. It’s why [William] Nylander did what as well as did and it’s why [Auston] Matthews did what as well as did.”

Some of the rhetoric surrounding the Marner deal and others is that these players should take a friendlier contract to help the team out and give them the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Please.

[Is Marner really going to leave Toronto?]

There’s a business side to the NHL that is separate from a player’s drive to become a Stanley Cup champion. These guys have, or will have, families to feed, kids to put through college and a future to make sure is all set. They’re in a fortunate position where they’re among the greatest in the world at what they do and in a market that dictates that salaries are paid out in the millions.

But take away the money aspect for a second, that doctors should get paid more, or firefighters or whoever else may be in roles that come with more risk. Or this silly sentiment. It’s irrelevant anyway.

Strip it down to what it is. An employee is looking out for his own interests. He’s performed better than others and wants to be compensated as such. The pay scale suggests that the best get paid the best, regardless of seniority, and that every new raise is the benchmark for the next. 

So when it’s your turn to take a walk from the cubicle into your boss’ office, you aren’t going in there to tell him/her that you’ll take the minimum for the company’s sake. No. You want your fair share of the pie. And if you had an agent, you’d probably be pushing the upper limits of what is fair.

Why is this any different in the NHL? Because young players and their agents are greed machines capable only of working inflated, astronomical numbers? No. It’s because if they perform better than another player, they want to be compensated as such.

And don’t blame the player, as Ice T once said. Hate the game.

Marner owes Toronto nothing in negotiations. He’s merely following the flow set out before him.

And for fans: You can’t call one of your players the greatest thing since sliced bread one day and then put him on blast the next for asking to get paid like he’s the next big thing.

So circling back to the change bit, perhaps teams should be protected to some degree when it comes to players they draft and develop.

Something like teams getting cap relief on homegrown talent, maybe having their contracts only hit the team’s cap for half. Or maybe something along the lines of one or two special contracts that don’t hit the cap at all, an exemption of sorts.

These contracts would only be for players the team has spent time and money grooming since they drafted them. It would allow for top players to receive top money and teams wouldn’t have to worry about losing said players or having to perform roster surgery just to keep them.

Of course, there would have to be rules attached to all of this. A set amount a team can pay certain players comes to mind. But it might be the first step in teams avoiding the “you’re screwed” part of the game just because you drafted well.

The draft shouldn’t come with a downside. Teams shouldn’t select a player knowing that in several years, they’ll have to make a choice on whether or not to keep that player or do harm to their team by selling off other pieces just to keep hold of them.

And those returns often become draft picks and the vicious cycle continues: Draft, develop, make another team better.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.