This is not a Harry Potter novel. If it was there would be a hero and a satisfying ending. Instead, it's a messier story about a past that can't be changed, and a future that has to be faced. Horrible real life, in other words.

Mistakes were made

It depends on your own opinions on the value of points, a setup man, how the playoffs are "different" and a host of other things as to where you think the mistakes were made and by whom.

You can believe that Kyle Dubas gave Mitch Marner a contract that was too big because he's just not tough enough. This is total claptrap, buy you can believe it if you like. The offer is still open to anyone who can tell me the process Dubas could have used to pay Marner less that didn't involve letting him sit out a whole year (and even then, that wouldn't have worked). No one's done it yet.

You can believe that Marner should have been traded after the Montréal series (sell low!). You can believe the next season was the time to sell high. You can be certain deep in your heart that Vegas would have traded him before that NMC kicked in <— me. But it's hard not to want to believe the path to this point was a mistake made somewhere.

But here is where we are.


NMC was an electronica collective from 1978. They put out one album, which their devoted fans will tell you – boy, will they tell you – was ahead of its time, and that's why the band broke up. The truth is they turned into a disco cover band that played Brighton and Skegness because they had rent to pay.

Let's just argue about pop music instead, it seems easier. A no-move clause is actually the thing people line up to say sarcastic one-liners about that all misrepresent the reality of how these contractual clauses work. The NMC is the device to put power and control in the hands of the player. There are people who think teams shouldn't be allowed to even ask players to waive the NMC, but that actually misses the point about how power works. The hammer is the player's to wield, and he should retain the power, therefore, to choose not to.

But it his choice. So stow your line about how, "Oh ho ho, I've been told no one ever waives the NMC." Or the reverse, "But of course everyone just waives the NMC, they aren't even real." Both are unfunny and incorrect.

Ryan McDonough waived his no-trade (the NMC's smaller cousin) because he wanted the hell out of Nashville. He got to decide where he was going. Claude Giroux waived his NMC to go to Florida, and only Florida. Taylor Hall said no way to the Leafs – while everyone carried on sobbing about how Dubas wouldn't get Hall – and he used his NMC to back it up.

The team has no say.

Make his life hell so he'll waive!!!

Sure, no downside to that plan.

Marner has the hammer

I don't pretend to know what's in his heart, but Mitch Marner says he wants to play his entire career in Toronto and that sure seems plausible.

No matter what his contract says, he'll make more money with the Leafs than anywhere else. He will have the famous man, influencer lifestyle he seems to enjoy, and he also says he stays off social media, so the Toronto bubble basically means he gets restaurant tables and snappy service and hell, you can get carjacked anywhere.

If his goal is to stay in Toronto, then the simple thing to do is to keep the hammer handy and smash any attempt to trade him. That opens up two paths he can follow, and this is where the Leafs come into the picture.

Extension tension

If Marner wants to stay in Toronto, the Leafs have to be willing to extend him, and the price has to be something he'll accept and they will pay. There's been some numbers bandied about in the $11.5 to $12.5 million range.

The Maple Leafs should just go to Mitch Marner and lay it out for him. If he wants to stay on this team, he needs to sign an extension for less than $11 million. He's not worth what William Nylander makes, and they should just tell him that. If he wants to play, he has to play ball on a contract. He's been overpaid for years and it's time to make up for that. They should just give him $9 million and tell him to be grateful. Otherwise trade him now.

Sorry, I had the radio on there for a second. But if you were nodding along with that and your heart swelled with love for the imaginary Leafs in the imaginary world where that's how things work, well, recalibrate your expectations.

I only have to go back to last summer to find acres of pixels on this very website demanding Auston Matthews take less because he's just not worth it so I know this fantasy is prevalent, but players don't take pay cuts.

Players under 30 don't have declining salaries. The rare exceptions to this involve the occasional player who is paid according to hopes and dreams on their first contract out of their ELC and they never fulfill those hopes. Those players sometimes wisely recalibrate their own ideas in order to actually get a contract without changing teams. Often they end up as unqualified RFAs who go to free agency and start over on a new team.

Jesse Puljujärvi exited his ELC and returned to Europe for a year. The Oilers, still full of hope, increased his salary to $3 million in 2022. Kyle Dubas signed him for $800,000.

Even some of the most famous draft semi-busts of recent years have seen their salaries progress up and stay up – Lawson Crouse, Nick Ritchie, Patrik Laine.

Laine will be interesting to watch. He's still on an $8.7 million contract that runs through to the end of 2026. He's missed most of his three and a half seasons in Columbus either through injury or via the Player Assistance Program. If he returns to the NHL and signs another contract in 2026 – if Columbus doesn't buy him out first – he could be one of the rare cases where a player's pay gets cut substantially without them actually leaving the NHL. Although, by then $8 million will be quaintly small as a top six forward salary.

Mitch Marner is not Patrik Laine. He's not going to "take" this fanciful deal the Leafs will just "give" him because the Leafs now have squarer jaws than they used to. He has the hammer.

The best the Leafs can do is get a deal with no NMC, and that costs extra in AAV. So the path of an extension is going to look painfully like the Jonathan Huberdeau overpay Brad Treliving chose to sign. He signed a player on the value of points, ignoring all other considerations, and in that case also ignoring how unlikely it was he would ever repeat his point totals.

Most people, if they thought about it calmly, would take Mitch Marner at 28 for $12 million instead of Huberdeau at 30 for $10.5.

It's not going to be some discount. Get that out of your heads right now. He will get a raise, and it will be a raise based on a percentage of a rapidly rising salary cap.

Nope, no way

The Leafs can only negate Marner's NMC power by just saying no over and over again – the way he did during his last contract negotiation.

This is the Johnny Gaudreau path. Marner plays out his final season on the Leafs and sails off into the sunset to play with whatever team he chooses in free agency. He'll get effectively less money when you consider endorsements, but his contract will be higher than the Leafs would go. Contract numbers are about status for players. He'd have the most important status marker along with a fresh start.

The Gaudreau is the threat that hangs over any negotiation about waiving the NMC or extending Marner's contract with the Leafs. It's always the fallback. It's the likely outcome if the relationship sours. If the Leafs try to make him leave, this is how he'll go. If they accidentally piss him off, this is how he'll go.

Marner wields the hammer

Instead of just threatening to use his hammer to block the Leafs from acting, Marner can choose to use it. Flip it over and it's a prybar that gets him out of Toronto and onto a team that wants him, where he wants to go.

He decides, though. Let that sink in fully. The Leafs are the more passive actor here. They can decline to trade him, but they can't make him go where they want.

Marner picks his team. The team makes their pitch to the Leafs, and they decide if the return is worth it. This the Tkachuk manoeuvre. Leafs fans have tried to retcon the Tkachuk trade into a success for Calgary to make a Marner trade seem like it might be a win. It was a bad deal. It was actually a surprisingly less bad deal than you'd expect given the timing Treliving chose and the single team to negotiate with. Treliving likely did as well as he did because Florida wanted Huberdeau out.

The appeal of the Tkachuk as a blueprint for trading Marner, even if you're honest about the relative value of the players moved, is that the Flames didn't have to take back just picks or prospects. They got players in their prime. And every Leafs fan would take MacKenzie Weegar and lie to themselves that it was enough.

But the Leafs don't get to pick a team who handily has a top defender they want to offload. Every fantasy scenario involves this happy scene because it's written to have a hero and a satisfactory conclusion. It's written from the wrong POV and ignores the one character with all the power. That's why it's a fantasy not nonfiction.

There are three paths: Overpay him, let him walk, or trade him to the team of his choice for whatever that team will give.

Pick a road.