Here we are on Aug. 22, less than a month before NHL training camps open, and nearly all of this summer’s class of RFAs remains unsigned. Only one of the elites has a new deal, and it took an offer sheet to get Sebastian Aho locked in with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Part of the trouble here could be that no one wants to be the first to sign and then watch the market reset because of a bigger contract to another RFA. When it comes to speculation, the biggest numbers have been attached to Mitch Marner. Can/should he get Auston Matthews money ($11.634 million) or close to it? Will his number ultimately be closer to $10 million, or perhaps around Aho’s AAV? And what will the term be? Three, four, five years? More?
With the start of the season so close, this week brought rumblings that Marner could join Zurich in the Swiss League for practices and the team confirmed they’ve been in communication with Marner’s camp.
Something has to give on one side of this negotiation, and one former Leaf is on record with his belief that Marner’s camp isn’t outlandish to use Matthews’ deal as a comparable.
“I think Marner has been their best player,” Dave Bolland told Dave McCarthy at The Sporting News. “I know Matthews is a goal scorer, he puts up goals; but I think as an all-around player, I see Marner as like a Jonathan Toews. Toews was our go-to guy in Chicago, we’d have him out there for power play, penalty kill. He was the guy when things were going down, and I kind of see Marner in that same type of position.
“He’ll do anything, and can do anything, to help the team win.”
Bolland has spent a portion of the last two days battling back a section of Leafs fans on Twitter for his take, but he’s sticking with it.
The argument against #marnersworthmorethanmatthews is obvious. Matthews plays the more valuable position and trails only Connor McDavid in even-strength goals since entering the league in 2016-17 – and Matthews has played 30 fewer games than the Oilers captain.
But Bolland’s case for Marner isn’t without merit.
Firstly, Marner led the Leafs with 94 points last season and his per game rate (1.15) was also better than Matthews’ (1.07). Marner also led Toronto’s forwards in average ice time (19:49) and was a presence on the Leafs’ penalty kill where Matthews was not. So the way coach Mike Babcock uses Marner seems to back up this idea he’s the go-to guy in all situations.
Marner has also proven to be more durable so far. In the three seasons since both players joined the league, Marner has missed five games, all in his rookie season, while Matthews has missed 34 games over the past two seasons.
Bolland made it clear he’s not knocking Matthews’ significance to the Leafs, but that Marner brings the same elite offence and more intangibles around it. With all that in mind, he doesn’t think it’s unfair for Marner’s camp to seek out a market-altering cap hit.
“In Marner’s position, he should wait out to get what he wants because he’s a huge key and he’s the main guy I think on that team for the Leafs who’s going to take them to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup, that’s how I feel,” he said.
Trolling? Legit argument? What do you think?