A lot of people have been asking how do you even start trading Mitch Marner the last couple days (not sure what happened to cause this). Lots of fans, like myself, enjoy spending most of the summer putting together rosters and debating with friends what next year’s team will look like. Leafs fans have had a lot of practice doing so, but never has a situation where a player like Mitch Marner could (and to some, should) be traded.
While there is so much hidden behind the veil with NHL GM conversations, there are some basic starting points we can work from in order to make a trade work. Feel free to use this as a guide next time you’re in a forum, quote tweeting friend of the blog Kevin Papetti’s trade polls, or banging your head against CapFriendly’s Armchair GM tool.
Does Marner have trade value?
Almost certainly yes. He is not going to be exposed in the Expansion Draft, he’s not going to be given away for a bag of pucks. Some might be turned off by his contract and question whether he’s capable of being a top line player in the playoffs, as Leafs fans have. But Marner is still a very good player, his points speak for themselves, and you only need one guy to believe in him to make a trade — and only two to start a bidding war.
Let’s look at some of the selling points:
- His salary is appealing
- He’s still young
- He gets lots of points
- He’s an obvious candidate for a fresh start
Wait, if he has all these good things going for him, why don’t the Leafs keep him? Well, we’ve covered that a lot at PPP, namely the shocking playoff performances, the cap hit, and the need for a reallocation of funds.
The contract has happened and there’s no point litigating it further. But the reality of the situation today is that it is too much of a deficit in performance to compensation that it has to be moved before the Leafs can make any changes to strengthen their offense. Yes, the offense, the Leafs need more weapons up front if you can believe it.
If Marner costs a team almost $11 million against the cap, how is he appealing to other teams? Despite making that much against the salary cap, Marner only costs the team he’ll play for next season about $6 million cash salary for the rest of his deal. This is because, after paying his signing bonus on July 1st, the Leafs will have dished out $41.3 million of the $65.4 million owed to him.
A lot of teams are severely hurting financially right now, so if the cap hit fits, this is a good value deal for many teams in the league. And I’m not talking about the Arizonas, a lot of teams in the East and West are struggling financially. To those teams, if Marner can be a seven, eight, or nine million dollar player, he’s bringing in surplus value. Thank you, MLSE, for the massively front-loaded contracts.
For the Leafs and MLSE, cash doesn’t matter nearly as much as cap space, so there is no surplus that can be imagined here.
No one will deny Marner’s point production in the regular season up to age 24. A team with some shooters but mostly ordinary players (and a coach willing to take on the challenge) could definitely use an explosive, dynamic winger at his best. It’s possible a team will see a chance to re-focus his energy and motivation to prove the Leafs wrong if he is traded.
All of these things are selling points, and in the right situation, Marner is a first line player that can drive offense and give a good defensive effort. In any trade not involving Jack Eichel, the Leafs will probably be giving up the better player on paper.
What could the return look like?
There are, roughly three ways to go about this. The Leafs could go entirely for futures which they can either keep or flip for players now. This could either end up being a partial reset of the team’s expectations and a lengthening of the plan, or a set of blockbuster moves to bring the Leafs back into contending mode.
A pick trade like this could all happen at the Draft, which for the second time is going to be taking place *after* July 1st, when Marner receives his $9.608 million signing bonus. In the recent past, the Leafs have lost out on making deals at the draft because teams want them to pay signing bonuses, so if picks are being exchanged, they can only happen for the following draft. This is a unique situation for the Leafs and one they should exploit one way or another.
That is one extreme, with the other being a player-for-player trade for players in Marner’s echelon (and also problematic situation). A true hockey trade. Between those is a sliding scale of better quality players and lower picks versus better quality picks and lower end players.
Marner for assets and cap space
This would be the most painful of trades because it would likely involve a very diminished return as the receiving team would be taking on a big cap hit, or the Leafs will have to retain or take on an unwanted contract.
I think the Leafs will be losing a trade constructed this way unless they have immediate plans to flip the picks. Filling that cap space void will be a tall task in multiple discrete moves unless the Leafs already have a big free agent fish signed on the dotted line. There are several days between the draft and the start of free agency, and unless Dubas has a player’s UFA rights, it’s going to be hard to keep a plan from falling apart.
In terms of pick quality, Marner should be able to command multiple top-64 picks.
If the Leafs do want to do this, here is a shortlist of top free agent talent that the Leafs would be keen to target:
UFAs: Alex Ovechkin (it won’t happen, but could you imagine?), Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dougie Hamilton.
Marner for a player, assets, and some cap space
In this scenario the Leafs give up the better player, and get someone back who might not be as good, but has been targeted as a better fit. Extra assets in the form of picks or prospects would be coming back the other way, allowing for an additional player to be brought in (via trade or free agency) with the freed up cap space.
If the Leafs do decide to spread the offensive cap space around, they should be looking to bring in two, probably even three forwards into the top six. Marner’s spot will need to be filled, and with Zach Hyman likely gone, he needs to be replaced too.
Between Marner, Hyman, and the likely departing Frederik Andersen, the Leafs have about $18 million to spend on a backup goalie and however many forwards they can find. However that money gets allocated is up to you, or in reality, Dubas.
There are many players rumoured to be in the thick of it with their teams. Buffalo’s top player this year, Sam Reinhart, needs a new contract and seemingly has run out of reasons to stay in Buffalo. There’s a cap crunch in Vancouver with Brock Boeser always rumoured to be on the way out. The Capitals have probably run out of patience with Evgeny Kuznetsov. And if Calgary finally want to make sweeping changes, maybe Elias Lindholm is one of them.
Trade Targets: Sam Reinhart, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Elias Lindholm, Evgeny Kuznetsov
One side theory I have includes Seattle somehow acquiring Marner in a trade after the expansion draft. There’s no reason for the Leafs to expose Marner, that’s just leaving an exorbitant amount of value on the table, but flipping him for draft capital or assets from another team might be intriguing to the brand new team with all the cap space to work with.
A true hockey trade, player for player
Mitch Marner for Jack Eichel.
There no more obvious pairing than the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres coming together and exchanging their not-personally-flawed top-five prospects from the 2015 Draft. Before going any further, the Leafs will need to be dead certain about Eichel’s recovery from a spinal injury. If that’s all clear, this is a no-brainer trade on the Leafs end.
Mitch Marner is not a bad player, if you think I’m saying that, go back to the top of the article. Mitch Marner is great, which is why it’s possible to bring in a player of Jack Eichel’s calibre.
While both players have had their value diminished following recent events, I would argue Eichel’s value is much lower considering he’s actively looking to get out, is having a row with the GM (who is trying to survive) over his body, and the team sucks really bad. Kyle Dubas is in a much stronger position personally and as a team. He can just bring everyone back and say they’ve gone to a magical cave and found the stone of killer instinct.
That is the offseason outlook. On paper, once the regular season begins, this would be a pretty lopsided deal for the Leafs. A healthy Eichel is not a far shout from Matthews, MacKinnon, and McDavid as premiere forwards in the NHL. He has incredible speed, puck handling, shooting, and tenacity. Remember his 2019 game against the Leafs when he nearly single-handedly beat us? Marner is really good at most of those things too, it’s just that Eichel is better and has the whole package.
A team with Matthews, Tavares, Eichel, and Nylander still fits with Dubas’ philosophy of stars running a team. The difference here would be that the third player would be a lot closer to the first rather than the fourth. This also allows for there to be a succession plan at centre after Tavares starts to feel the effects of age and gives the top-six more flexibility. All of these players can play with each other, or on their own. That last thing is something Marner didn’t give the Leafs.
Why would the Sabres do a deal like this? What they would be getting out of this trade is probably the best player asset available for trade in the league, one who is cash cheap, wants to be there, and is extremely motivated to beat the Leafs every time they invade KeyBank Center. It’s the classic heel turn that Buffalonians love.
Kevin Papetti made one of his patented trade polls on Twitter the other day, asking if Marner, Nick Robertson, and Timothy Liljegren would be a package suitable for Buffalo. I honestly don’t think it needs to include those two prospects because from the Sabres point of view, they’re replacing a superstar who doesn’t want to be there with a top producer that does.
Make it a Bob McKenzie special, one for one.
(Assuming Eichel is healthy) which trade would you like to see
|Picks, prospects, and free agents||117|
|A player, some picks, and a free agent||295|
|a “hockey trade”||1047|
|You’re too optimistic, he’s worth less than a bag of pucks||173|