The Toronto Maple Leafs and representatives for restricted free agent Mitch Marner have for the most part kept the details of contract negotiations to themselves, but recent reports with less than a month to go before the opening of training camp may be an attempt from both sides to apply pressure to the other.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported on the Tim and Sid Show last week that the Leafs have been proactive in trying to get Marner signed to a new deal and that GM Kyle Dubas wants to get the 22-year-old signed for six or seven years at an amount of $10 to $10.5 Million per season. He also indicated that the club would be open to a three-year deal for a lesser amount.
The Athletic’s James Mirtle indicated in a piece in earlier this month that the Marner camp is looking for something close to Auston Matthews’ $11.634 Million salary on a five-year deal and that the ask from agent Darren Ferris on a three-year bridge deal was $10 Million AAV.
On Tuesday, Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal reported that the Marner camp has contacted the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League as an option to play if the two sides cannot come to an accord. Zurich is the club that an 18-year-old Matthews played pro hockey before being drafted first overall by the Leafs in 2016.
TSN's Darren Dreger confirmed the report, but indicated that Marner would only train with the Lions. The Swiss league’s season begins in mid-September, which coincides with the start of Leafs training camp in Newfoundland and may be an attempt by Marner to avoid the pitfalls that William Nylander ran into last season by missing camp and not playing the first two months.
Nylander skated with a pair of European clubs during his contract impasse, but did not play competitively from May (at the 2018 World Championships) until early December, which showed in his rustiness throughout the second half of the regular season and the first round against Boston.
Playing in the Swiss League would not preclude Marner returning to the Leafs if a new contract is agreed to before December 1, but would open him up to the potential of injury.
The details of potential contract offers show that the Leafs are not lowballing their leading scorer, and puts the onus on the winger and his representative, who has a history of having players deny their services in search of a better deal.
The possibility of Marner heading to Europe has to be interpreted as a sign that the threat of an offer sheet from another NHL club is no longer serious and that it is one of the few moves left for his camp.
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