For the five billionth time, let’s start things off by getting this out of the way: It’s September and a huge list of high-profile restricted free agents have not signed new deals, Mitch Marner included. It’s a somewhat unprecedented situation, this whole thing. And we keep saying it looks like a change in the way things have always been done. We’ll see.
Good morning. It's September 6th and these young NHL superstars remain unsigned:
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) September 6, 2019
Because this is a Leafs page, you may have guessed we’re going to talk about Marner again, hopefully for one of the last times before this whole thing is settled.
Basically all I want to do is touch base to say this: Start making peace with Marner signing a maybe-too-expensive short term bridge deal, because that’s what’s going to happen in the next few days or weeks. As this thing has continually evolved over the summer and now into back-to-school territory, the specifics on numbers have been kept relatively under wraps (or conversely, at times so wide-ranging from so many sources that they don’t make sense), but if I can try to say something close to confident, it’s that Marner is going to eventually settle on a short, three year contract and people are going to get real mad about it.
There may not have been many reliable signs to this point as to what direction these negotiations will go, but one that keeps getting pushed to the top of the heap recently is that both the Leafs and Marner are open to doing a bridge. It’s been repeatedly reported that a long term 6-7 year contract is not something the player’s side wants, presumably unless the cap hit crests Auston Matthews’ 11.634-million. The Leafs won’t do that, so we’re likely left with a three year contract that keeps Marner in restricted status at its end, and screams “Let’s just get something done to keep this team glued together and make a run now.”
As far as numbers go, while there haven’t been many reliable reports out there, I can hazard a guess based on all the radio and podcasting I’ve listened to since July that eventually this thing settles somewhere between 8.7 and 9.5-million annually. Again, for just three years. Now, you might be saying “Well that would totally break the mold for RFAs and bridge deals” and you would be 100 percent correct. It will break the mold, it will seem panicked, it will seem like the Leafs are using a unique approach in overpaying their young stars in order to capitalize on this early part of their window. But that is what will happen.
Elliotte Friedman says on SN960 that he's heard the Leafs and Marner have a 3 year deal on the table.
— James (@Account4hockey) September 3, 2019
As recently as today James Mirtle of The Leaf Report mentioned he believed the number the Leafs might be comfortable with to be around 8.7-million AAV on a bridge, but that went back as far as things stood in July. The situation may have changed since then, and by the sounds of it, the Leafs could be softening to a higher number to get this wrapped up. As The Toronto Star reports, that already-absurd dollar figure for a bridge might not be enough:
Marner’s status could change over the next 10 days. There are no signs pointing to a deal but there is a belief that the parties might be closing in on a three-year contract with an average annual value of $9.5 million (U.S.) — in short, a lucrative bridge deal before what could be an even bigger payday.
Not only is that lucrative, it’s completely league-shaking in terms of setting a precedent for future RFAs. And who knows? It might not be true, things may never get that out of hand.
But based on what we’ve been following over the last couple months, I’m more and more inclined to believe that people who have hope that this has all been posturing from the Marner side and it’ll eventually settle into a run-of-the-mill deal are going to be disappointed. It’s going to be a short term contract, and it’s going to be be expensive as hell. Make peace with it now if you need to.