What Are These People Saying?

TORONTO (May 26) — Nothing in sports media should surprise me anymore. Not after writing or speaking about the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past 35 years. But, I have to admit: I’m astonished at the number of reputable correspondents claiming, in all sincerity, that the Leafs’ brass will “make life miserable” for Mitch Marner next season.

If, of course, the little winger doesn’t cave and renounce the full, no–movement clause negotiated with former general manager Kyle Dubas. In the final two years of his current pact, which spans all of the 2024–25 National Hockey League schedule. After which, Marner can choose where he wants to continue his career, at a number the Leafs simply will not be able to afford under the salary cap. To prevent such an inevitability, scribes and pundits are proposing that the four–headed Maple Leafs monster — Keith Pelley, Brendan Shanahan, Brad Treliving and Craig Berube — concoct a scheme to browbeat Marner out of the city. Perhaps by inquiring with former defenseman Stephane Robidas about a vacancy on the “Island”. And, whether Joffrey Lupul has recovered from the sports hernia sustained in the Autumn of 2017 (it can be stubborn). Would the Leafs play Lou Lamoriello’s game with a 99–point forward holding all the cards? Or, does the club plan on riding it out one more year with the same lead actors in an effort to craft another 100–point season? Then, take a ninth run (unbelievable though it sounds) at making some legitimate noise in the playoffs. Remember, there are close to 19,000 seats sold for each game at the highest ticket–stipend in the NHL. To eliminate Marner for simply following the provisions of his contract would be to severely depreciate the product. And, would send a disastrous message to pending free agents: “Stand clear of the Leafs; they pay nicely but otherwise capitulate to external forces and treat their players like garbage.”

Others, of course, would argue the absurdity of such a claim given how the club relented to the Big 3 in contract negotiations. If you are not Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Victor Hedman (and several others) — with Stanley Cups on your résumé — how do you command a full no–move in the final two years of a pact, especially your first in the NHL? Credit, therefore, agent Darren Ferris of Quartexx Management for sensing a weakness in Dubas and going for the kill. But, remember also that Shanahan signed off on the Marner deal. So, we cannot blanketly admonish Dubas. Ferris has been around the block a few times. It’s almost certain that he and Marner’s father, Paul, have considered every scenario the Leafs could deploy, particularly the Robidas Island scam, whereby players under contract, but no longer valued (resulting from injury or decline in performance), are placed on “permanent” Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), freeing up cap space. How it was possible, with a Players Association, for Lamoriello to simply wave goodbye to Lupul, Robidas and Jared Cowan (as did Treliving this season to John Klingberg) is a mystery. Sure, they were paid, but could not suit up in the NHL. The Leafs owned them and told them to have a nice life. Would Treliving do this to Marner? Could he do it to Marner without Shanahan’s consent?

Or, are the big hockey decisions on Bay Street now required to pass by Pelley’s desk?

Some have gone so far as to offer the idiotic suggestion that the Leafs will make Marner a repeated healthy scratch. For maximal anguish and torment. But, how might that help the club, which would still need to pay Marner his full salary, all of it counting against the cap? And, as mentioned, why would Pelley and Co. deliberately weaken next year’s team? Do people actually think before postulating the absurd? Or, does it just flow naturally?

The flip side is also conceivable. There’s no way Marner, during his media exit interview, would have asked out of town. Instead, and predictably, he plead allegiance to the flag. But, perhaps the true story is different.

Maybe Mitch and his wife, Stephanie, have privately considered a change of scenery. A nighttime glance at the TV every 48 hours brings the Edmonton Oilers into Marner’s living room. Surely, it reminds him how moving from the Leafs as a free agent has evolved so splendidly for Zach Hyman and his bride, Alanna. Not that a position on Connor McDavid’s flank will be available to Marner. Still, there are many teams in the NHL on which Mitch would be the top attraction. And, best player. Couldn’t, for example, the San Jose Sharks rebuild their program around Marner? Would he not be an instant fan favorite in Salt Lake City, where the NHL sets up shop next season? The western–U.S. markets have been foundering in recent years. Which isn’t healthy for the NHL. Los Angeles improved this past season but is not a legitimate Cup contender. San Jose, Anaheim and Arizona (now Utah) are plainly awful. An electrifying talent such as Marner would breathe life into any of these non–traditional venues.


The point I’m making is that neither the Leafs nor Marner have to dig in. The transition to his next NHL team doesn’t need to be acrimonious. Perhaps Mitch would be amenable to providing Treliving a list of 10 clubs for which he would waive his no–movement clause. Thereby allowing the Toronto manager a reasonable chance to negotiate a swap. Neither is there a deadline to make a deal… until the actual deadline, next March. It would alleviate the burden of a trade partner; that club needing to pay Marner’s salary (and remaining cap figure) for only the last five weeks of the schedule. Conversely, if a team is hoping to center its program around Marner, a trade this summer could materialize. San Jose, as an example, is swimming in cap space with $38,170,833 available to spend. So, too, is Utah at $43,264,524. Anaheim is more than $33 million under the cap. Even the Kings have $19.9 million to offer (all figures courtesy of capfriendly.com). Again, I’m focusing on the western–U.S. teams, most of which could use a hockey headliner. Such as a 100–point forward still approaching his prime. Maybe the notion of leaving practice in flip–flops and shorts (rather than the layers of winter) appeals to Mitch and Stephanie.

The money will be available… just not from the Maple Leafs.

Some may wonder why a team would acquire the $11 million contract of a player whose performance regresses in Stanley Cup toil. Particularly, the final year of that contract, leading to potential free agency. That’s more of a concern in a place like Toronto, where the arena would fill to watch 20 chimpanzees play hockey. In a less–traditional market, with a need to sell tickets during the long regular season, there is also the importance of a star attraction.

Despite all the kooky talk, I anticipate a measured approach by both sides.

Remember, if the Leafs do something stupid and piss off Marner, he can tell them to shove it. That nothing will dissuade him from sticking it out through next season, after which he will resentfully leave the club emptyhanded.

Alternatively, Shanahan and Treliving — if they haven’t already done so — can respectfully inform the Marner camp that the Leafs will not be offering a contract extension beyond next season (July 1 is the earliest date for such an overture). And, if Mitch and Stephanie would rather go to a team that may consider a long–term arrangement, Brendan, Brad and the Leafs would work diligently toward a swap. All the club needs is permission… and, likely, a list of 8–12 cities to which Marner would accept a trade. It can all be done in a copacetic environment.

The unspoken option is the Leafs somehow finding cap space to offer Marner an extension, thereby securing three skaters in the Core–4 (Tavares being odd man out). I wouldn’t put this one past Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, seeing how obstinate the company has been with a losing playoff hand. But, neither do I give it much of a chance owing to the cryptic confessions of the brass during its end–of–season conclave. Fundamental change is on the menu. At last. And, no team makes a schematic alteration with third and fourth–line skaters.

The ritual sacrifice everyone anticipated after the playoff loss to the Bruins removed coach Sheldon Keefe from the picture and brought in Craig Berube. Which, as written in my last blog, could develop into something of a wild card. On the surface, Berube and Marner seem like an odd couple. Very odd. Kind of like John Brophy and Miroslav Frycer — both now gone — during the late–1980’s. The hardnosed bench boss and his gifted, yet sensitive forward. If Marner is having night sweats over a quasi–return to the Mike Babcock era, Ferris will provide Treliving a list of 31 NHL cities. “Just get us outta here,” will be the message. Otherwise, I cannot imagine the relationship between Marner and the Maple Leafs eroding as a result of something cheap. Such as trying to strong–arm or intimidate the player and his agent with line–up scratches and long minutes on the bench. There are likely provisions against such manipulation in his expiring contract with the Leafs.  Any nonsense along these lines, of course, will ensure that Marner retains his no–movement clause and vetoes all trade proposals by the club.

Isn’t it odd that we have credible scribes and broadcasters proposing these shoddy tactics?

The Leafs need to deal with players on the straight and narrow. Like professionals. Not louts.


14 comments on “What Are These People Saying?

  1. Things have changed. Sports journalist media middlemen are now obsolete. Gone are the days when most games were untelevised, and if you couldn’t see the game in person, you read about it or heard about it the next day. Information was also rare and hard to come by. But not today. Fans can now watch all the games of all sports. We can access a myriad of information, videos, stats and highlights and not just from yesterday’s games but from yesteryear’s. So what is the media to do? Especially since the media has now grown in numbers, thanks to the internet, to include do it yourselfers. Today, “experts” are left to speculate the future, and create rumours and innuendo in a highly competitive, yet unprofitable environment. Looking forward to the day when the fans email their questions to teams and coaches and management and players, and receive answers to those questions, and the official journalists and reporters are ignored. We are all journalists now. Even when it comes to the news. Everyman is a witness equal to professional journalists. At least potentially so. See the 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami. Where did all the video come from? Bystanders. In Toronto, who recorded Sammy Yatim’s murder? A bystander. We Bystanders now have the power. The journalists have little or nothing on us.

  2. Whereas step 1 is for the Leaf braintrust to decide if they want to keep Marner (possible?) or trade him. If the latter, then the approach to Marner will taint the relationship unless, as you point out, he wants to go. This will be interesting either way.

    1. If they keep Matthews, Nylander AND Marner, nothing about the Leafs changes. It means Keith Pelley was blowing smoke out his ass at the end-of-season press conference.

  3. Its a real shame that it has come to this. Whether you lay the blame at Dubas feet for signing Tavares before securing deals with Marner, Nylander or Matthews. Or whether you blame Marner, Matthews and Nylander for getting every last dollar they could, it doesn’t matter anymore.

    That much money tied up in three forwards is not going to work.

    I would bite the bullet and and move Marner if he will agree and if not you tinker with the roster, AGAIN, waste another year and then in 2025/26 you use the $22 million and Minton and Cowan are probably/hopefully on entry level deals but providing value above that.

  4. You’re really hung up on this Marner talk, Howard. The Leafs issues are with Shanahan, same as the Blue Jays with Shapiro. Until Shanahan is removed, the Leafs are going nowhere. He will make sure Marner is back for 8 more years. He’ll leave someone else with the mess, eventually.

      1. I always read your articles, Howard. They are good reads. I just find you’re spending too much time on Marner. Shanahan will make life wonderful for him. He’ll sign off on another deal for him. Shanahan is the problem nobody wants to solve. See also, Shapiro.

        1. There’s no real story in Leafs Land today other than Marner. As such, yes, spending time on it. And, remember, Shanny has a direct superior now in Keith Pelley. Unless the brass was blowing smoke out its ass last week, “signing off” on things won’t be a cinch anymore. Don’t you agree?

  5. Howard, we are aligned. Many of us have posted this same approach across multiple sites. Lets just hope clear heads prevail and the parties sit down at the table directly facing each other and openly discuss whats best for both sides in a civil manner. I do have my concerns over Ferris and Paul Marner’s behavior but hopefully they will have prepared for all scenarios and be open minded.

    On the other hand, if Tavares would be injured or waive well that opens up a whole set of alternatives……

  6. I remember, and I’m sure that you do as well, how fans treated Todd Gill who caught the ire of the crowd on a regular basis. But Gill was young, and along came Pat Burns and then the Gilmour trade happened including Jamie Macoun. Dave Ellett and Sylvan Lefevre were also added to the defense and Gill quietly gained confidence and played some very effective hockey and the fans unseeingly forgot him as a target. Even the press supported his play. My point here is that when Leaf fans start dumping on a player i.e. Justin Holl most recently, they are extremely unforgiving. Gill may have been the only player that I can remember, and I’ve been a Buds fan for about 68 years, who escaped the drudgery of supposed Leaf supporters.
    Mitch Marner has fallen into this same category now much to his, my and the majority of Leafs fan’s chagrin due to the constant badgering of simple-minded pod casters, journalists, self-proclaimed insiders and broadcasters on various television venues. I appreciate that you make mention of this fact. This overblown, slanderous unrelenting harping on Marner is going to hit home at some point. The young fellow is competitive. Proof of the was there for all to see when he slammed his gloves on the floor behind the bench. That wasn’t sulking like the untrained part time fans believe but he was angry that systems were breaking down. That is a good thing. I find it hard to believe that the Leafs would conjure up a dastardly scheme to deflate Marner when they have invested so many years in him and then try to push him out when he’s now in his prime. Sure, they could get a good return for him. I don’t mean for a bunch of slugs., But trading a 100-point player, who in a short time has become one of the all-time top Maple Leaf scorers, who excels in all facets of the game and who, if Matthews wasn’t here, would have been considered a generational player, will prove to be a bad move. The winner of any trade always gets the best player. TO’s loss because there isn’t a trade available that would include a better player. Any potential contrived dastardly process as described by you in your article would prove the Leafs classless and totally unprofessional. Let’s hope that this is all conjecture.

  7. I’ve read that silly idea of treating Marner like garbage so that he wants to be traded elsewhere as well.
    There is but one choice to handle this situation and that is for the team to inform Marner that they have no intention of extending him under any circumstances. The Leafs simply must be willing to lose Marner to free agency for nothing.
    It’s not ideal but the one positive that comes of it is that Marner will be playing for a future contract with another team which should give the Leafs the best version of the player for one more season.

  8. I have not seen any article having the ridiculous claims you’ve said in order to try to make yourself sound smarter. In fact, many of us including myself have already suggested exactly what you are, ONLY, we also discuss how it’s the only way for Marner to get an 8 year contract which you seem oblivious about smarty.

  9. Howard, Mitch isn’t gong anywhere, however, Tavares is. Tavares, after playing in the world championships will mysteriously be sidelined with an injury, sustained at the world championship. He will be unable to start the new season, thus he will be sent to the island.
    ( how is this for a conspiracy theory)

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