Drawing on Mitch Marner as an example is a dangerous game.
With attention starting to turn back to the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Raptors’ title run deflected focus from an unsigned star and the very-real associated salary cap concerns threatening the local hockey club, maybe the most trusted reporter in the game used Marner’s name a little too loosely to have it avoid stirring an online avalanche.
In a broader discussion about the general mindset of players exiting entry-level contracts and how terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement have had unintended consequences, TSN’s Bob McKenzie was quoted as saying this, via his colleague, Kristen Shilton:
“If Mikko Rantanen signed tomorrow for $9 million with the Colorado Avalanche, you know what Mitch Marner is going to say about that? Who cares? He’s going to say, ‘that's not my comparable; I choose my comparable. My comparable is Auston Matthews. So pay me. If you don't pay me, I'm not showing up to camp.’”
About 12 hours later, McKenzie did his best to walk these comments back with an appearance on TSN 1050’s morning show, First Up, explaining that the quote was isolated from a much larger discussion and was “completely and totally” removed from the intended context. He said the point he was trying to make is that the over-arching attitude shared among players coming out of their entry-level deals is to leverage the self-serving comparables at their disposal, not ones that damage their negotiation processes.
Which of course makes sense.
The problem here is that most clinging to the apparent assertion that Marner is demanding to be paid like Auston Matthews, which was left to fester overnight, won’t hear McKenzie’s refined stance. Instead they will continue to encourage the notion that the dynamic winger intends to exercise his right to squeeze every last penny he can from the Maple Leafs. Or get the bag elsewhere.
Sifting through the replies to Shilton’s original tweet is certainly not advisable, but what can be gleaned from them is that sections of the fanbase have turned against Marner.
They’re turning on the local kid that has led Toronto in scoring over the last two seasons with 163 points in 164 games, because he wants be paid like the superstar he is.
Mitch Marner is a local kid who’s led the Leafs in scoring for two straight years in one of the most intense hockey markets in the world. He can ask for whatever the f*** he wants.
— Sid Seixeiro (@Sid_Seixeiro) June 19, 2019
Having assembled so much talent, so soon, and having not yet seen it translate to any meaningful success, there is a general sense of dread within the market as Leafs management attempts to survive the task of signing multiple star players to long-term agreements after the Connor McDavid contract boom.
Gone are the days of star players having to prove their worth over multiple seasons — a reality that isn’t anymore apparent than it is with the Leafs.
William Nylander took them to task, fighting until the final five minutes for his perceived value, while Matthews negotiated the second-most expensive contract in the NHL two-and-a-half seasons into his career.
And frankly, he could have leveraged his situation for more.
While all management teams should try to keep costs down with every transaction they broker, the management of these assets wouldn’t be so cumbersome had the Leafs not pursued luxuries in the free-agent market. With John Tavares signed for his $11 million hometown discount, the Leafs have three high-priced forwards monopolizing roughly 36 percent of bankroll before even determining the value of their most productive forward.
Prioritized last through the process of building the framework of their long-term salary structure for both intentional and incidental reasons, Marner’s negotiation always had the potential to be the most difficult. I suppose the hope was that situational factors — his local roots, his marketability, his affinity for the organization — would serve the Leafs well. Instead, it seems to have made him, and the aggressive inner circle he surrounded himself with, seemingly more aware.
How often do we see agents openly criticize contracts signed by their client’s teammates? Forget the comparable for Mitch, do we have one for Paul Marner?
How deep his camp will dig its stakes into the ground, and for how long, is to be determined.
But Marner’s representatives wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they weren’t posturing with one week to go before having the ability to freely engage other teams to assist in deciphering Marner’s market value.
That means it’s going to get uglier over the next few weeks than it was Tuesday afternoon, when a big-picture discussion loosely tied to the Marner contract talks ignited factions of the Leafs’ fanbase and pitted more against the local boy that has done nothing but shine for his hometown.
Brace yourselves for that.
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