Restricted free agent Mitch Marner is still without a contract and his representation is reportedly working on a potential contingency plan should the forward and the Toronto Maple Leafs fail to come to terms on a new deal before the 2019-20 season.
Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet 650 reported Tuesday that Marner’s camp has been in contact with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss League and the team has since confirmed the news.
The Zurich Lions are the same team Marner’s Toronto teammate Auston Matthews played for during his draft year.
The Maple Leafs went through a holdout situation involving one of their RFAs, William Nylander, one year ago. Nylander eventually signed a six-year contract and joined his teammates midway through 2018-19, but before then he skated with club teams in both Sweden and Austria to prepare for the season while the rest of his team participated in training camp and exhibition games.
This is a situation Kyle Dubas would like to avoid, but the Maple Leafs general manager has to walk a fine line in negotiations as the team finds itself up against the salary cap — the team can eventually create some additional space by adding both Nathan Horton and David Clarkson to long-term injured reserve.
Marner has led the Maple Leafs in scoring in each of the past two seasons. The career-high 94 points he put up in 2018-19 ranked third among all right wingers behind Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and 2016 Hart winner Patrick Kane.
Coming off his entry-level contract, the fourth-overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft is expected to fetch an average annual value in the $10 million range.
Auston Matthews leads the team’s payroll with an AAV of $11.634 million. John Tavares makes an even $11 million per year and Nylander comes in slightly below the $7-million mark.
“It’s a process, I told him. It’s just how it goes,” Nylander recently said of Marner’s dilemma. “You’re standing there and you’re thinking, ‘Well why can’t this be done already?’ It’s just the way the business part of it works out.
“There will be a solution at one point in time, but you don’t know when.”