As the hockey world breathlessly suspends its summer for a Mitch Marner offer sheet that may or may not be coming – and why exactly isn’t anybody talking about Matthew Tkachuk? – this could all end up being like Waiting for Godot. Wasn’t he supposed to sign last week with the New York Islanders? Wait a minute, he’s turned down two offer sheets already? What’s that, nobody will be stupid enough to waste their time in a futile attempt to make an offer the Toronto Maple Leafs are sure to match?
It’s a little difficult to figure what is accurate, what is informed conjecture and what is pure bunk when it comes to the Marner situation these days. But we do know that there are teams that have been/are serious about making an offer and there’s good reason to believe two of them already have, with Marner turning them down because he didn’t like the destinations.
So what are we to do with all of this? Well, never say never, but there’s a good chance this thing could extend well into the summer, possibly even beyond. Well beyond. The Leafs, of course, still control the narrative here, what with about $9 million in cap space – with Nathan Horton on the long-term injured list. So why the delay? It’s reasonable to think an offer sheet might not be coming for Marner because we’re already eight days into free agency and nothing has materialized. But on the flip side, the Maple Leafs are basically set for next season. They know exactly what they have, including the amount of cap space. Marner’s contract status is really the only issue left to resolve. So if it were as easy as offering him a contract and having him accept it, this would have been done more than a week ago.
The thinking here is that Marner and his camp might have reason to be just a little miffed here. In reality, the Maple Leafs have had over a year, since July 1, 2018, to be exact, to get Marner’s name on a contract extension and it hasn’t been done. Since then, just about everyone around Marner has been taken care of and are comfortably signed to long-term deals, while Marner waits and wonders whether he’s going to have to force his employer’s hand, either by signing an offer sheet or by withholding his services if he’s not signed by training camp.
The longer the Maple Leafs wait to get this done, the greater the likelihood that one those things happens. In fact, if a team truly wants to put the Leafs in a serious bind when it comes to an offer sheet, now is really not the time to do it. Giving Marner an offer sheet in July gives the Leafs far too much time to mobilize and make the moves they need to make to match the offer. So the longer a competitor waits to approach Marner, the more likely it is to succeed.
We do know there’s a very good chance Marner is not going to sign a long-term deal, either with the Leafs or anyone else. So here’s how you seriously put the Leafs in a bind: Either offer a one-year deal at $14 million or a five-year deal for Auston Matthews-John Tavares money and do it just before the regular-season begins. All teams have to be cap compliant to open the season and the more another team puts that in jeopardy, the bigger the bind in which the Leafs will find themselves. That still might not deter the Leafs from matching, but it will certainly give them something to ponder. And the longer a team waits, doing it either just before the season or early in the campaign, the better chance it will have to get the player. And you’re not going through the trouble of offer-sheeting Marner unless the ultimate goal is to have the player in your lineup.
We also know that the only way a team is going to ultimately be successful in this situation is to put the Leafs in a difficult-to-escape salary cap crunch. Forget about the money. Forget about offering a king’s ransom up front. Because the Leafs will simply say, “That’s cute,” before going to the money printing machine they own and coming up with the requisite dollars.
If this is going to get done to completion, it has to be done right. And if that is going to happen, we might not be seeing a resolution to this anytime soon.
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