After scoring the game winning goal in their 3-1 win over Vegas on Tuesday, and stepping up in the absence of injured center Auston Matthews, the debate on how the Toronto Maple Leafs will pay Mitch Marner next summer is the question at the forefront of much debate in media circles.
Marner had some difficulty with consistency most of the first half of last season, scoring just two goals in 34 games, but with Matthews out with a concussion in mid-December and with an injured shoulder for a month down the stretch, the 21-year-old averaged a point-per-game the rest of the season, finished with 22 goals, led the Leafs with 69 points and in the first round against Boston with nine points in seven games.
With Matthews out with a shoulder injury, the Markham, ON is picking up the slack once again and leads the Leafs with 19 points, but with Marner being a restricted free agent at the end of the season and in the wake of the current impasse with William Nylander, how will GM Kyle Dubas be able to fit in the new contracts for him and Matthews (expected to be in the same neighborhood as Connor McDavid).
Marner gets the interception and does a loop around the offensive zone before he finds Tavares. Great opportunity. pic.twitter.com/OpQPZqcvAW
In spite of his fourth major injury in 13 months, the Leafs will want to get Matthews on an eight-year max deal (which would buy up four years of unrestricted free agency) and will likely be as hardline as they have been with Nylander on his AAV, since the former Calder Trophy winner will be the centerpiece of the franchise for the next decade.
With Marner proving to be almost as valuable (and some would say equally) as Matthews, the dilemma for Dubas is similar to what Edmonton faced with Leon Draisaitl two years ago, with the big German making the case after a good playoff that he was not $5 to 6 Million per year less of a player than McDavid and in the end got a long term deal at $8.5 Million AAV.
Even if the cap goes up significantly next season, Toronto would be severely hampered if they have to fit three eight-figure salaries on their payroll. Part of the solution may be the resolution of the Nylander situation, if he is dealt by the Leafs for players under contract with significant term, that would provide Dubas some relief or cost certainty in other areas, depending on what Toronto would get back in a deal.
Another potential solution could be to sign Matthews, Marner or both to five-year deals for a slightly lesser amount. That shorter term was what Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos and current teammate John Tavares signed out of their entry level deals.
A five-year contract does not provide the compensation and security of a max deal, but the positive on the player’s side is it allows them to qualify for unrestricted free agency at age 27. From the Leafs perspective, it gets one or both forwards signed for less because they are only buying one year of unrestricted free agency away and it is better fit with their current salary structure, as Tavares seven-year, $77 Million contract would only have one year remaining, thus opening up $11 Million in cap space.
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