In his post-season presser, Kyle Dubas said he doesn’t want to chip away at the cap space next season before he’s got the Mitch Marner contract finalized. He also said he was going to almost immediately start things rolling with Darren Ferris, Marner’s agent. There are 51 days from May 1 to the first day of the draft, so realistically, they have six weeks to get this done if the Leafs want to negotiate any trades prior to draft day.
Current Cap Space
The NHL projected a cap ceiling of $83 million for next season back in December. This value will be finalized over the offseason, and last year, the league announced the final number right before the draft, so Dubas is going to have to work with the estimate.
Cap Friendly reports a current cap hit for the Leafs next season of $74,234,699. This does not include any bonuses rolling forward, as the expectation is they will all be contained within this year’s cap ceiling.
This number is based on the roster as it finished the NHL season, and contains nine forwards, five defenders and three goalies (Andersen, Sparks and Woll). Adding Marner to that mix makes for 18 players, and that’s five short of a full 23-man regular-season roster.
That number also includes Nathan Horton’s $5,300,000. He is not currently on LTIR as the Leafs didn’t need to use the space this season, but I think we can all see that the contract will be designated to LTIR very soon. NHL teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap in the offseason by 10%, so there is some extra room without LTIR yet.
In addition to Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are due to sign extensions.
Nic Petan at $775,000 is already on the roster. He’ll be joined by Calle Rosen at $750,000 and Trevor Moore at $775,000, so some of the fleshing out will be done with those discount deals.
But the space to fit Marner, Kapanen, Johnsson and those two bargain additions to make 23 players is about $15 million, so call it $13.5 for the three RFAs with not one dime left over for any defenders unless a contract is moved.
Marner has played three pro seasons, so four more makes him a UFA. Any contract over four years will be buying UFA years and will see the AAV rise. It’s very unlikely that the Leafs will want to sign a four-year deal and buy no UFA years. This leaves terms of three years and five years as the most likely shorter length deals to be acceptable to the team.
John Tavares is the only big deal done by Dubas to full term. Matthews’ is five years, and Nylander’s is six. Both of those deals expire in 2024. If Marner’s deal is five years, his will expire at the same time, one year before the Tavares deal is over. This makes it look like the Leafs will want either three years at a lower AAV or full term on an AAV they would struggle to make fit next season.
Longer Term Cap Considerations
Forecasting cap concerns years in advance is a fool’s game. But after next season, several difficulties vanish. The Marleau contract expires, the Horton contract expires, and Jake Muzzin’s $4 million is gone, ready to be spent on a new defenceman.
At that point all of Tavares, Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Rielly and Zaitsev are under term for several years. Kadri and Andersen will expire earlier, but the core of the team is there at a cost that won’t change.
Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin become RFAs due for an extension in 2021, so that is a future problem as well.
There has been more speculation about this contract than is really reasonable, so I’m just going to quote Bob McKenzie in his recent Bobcast, since he cut to the chase perfectly.
Ferris will go to Dubas and say: We want the Matthews deal.
Simple as that.
Dubas Doesn’t Want to Give Marner the Matthews Deal
Beyond the obvious — you never want to give someone what they ask for right away — the Matthews deal is too much AAV and the wrong term.
It’s too much because, and this shouldn’t even be a discussion but the hype machine has made it one: You don’t pay the same rate for assists as you do goals.
There is no play-making winger in the NHL who should be making the same salary as an elite scoring centre. And it isn’t even about position. It’s about how valuable and irreplaceable the skillsets are. Nicklas Backstrom makes a lot less than Alex Ovechkin for a reason.
What is a Fair Deal
The Nylander deal.
Six or seven years with an AAV of $7 to $8 million is a reasonable deal. More for a longer term, less with no-move and no-trade clauses.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of motivation for Ferris to agree to what’s merely fair. Unless he believes Dubas would seriously consider trading Marner if he won’t sign something reasonable, then the question isn’t will Dubas overpay Marner, it’s by how much will Dubas overpay Marner.
Offer Sheets, Trades and Other Unlikely Plot Twists
Teams do not sign players to an offer sheet. Players sign offer sheets. The player runs the process. To plausibly discuss the idea of an offer sheet, you have to first plausibly put the pen in Marner’s hand.
If Dubas let the Nylander negotiation ride out to the bitter end, and then signed him to exactly the AAV and term that seemed likely in the summer: six years at $7 million, he’s not going to trade Marner. When he said, “We can and we will,” he meant it.
Dubas is also not going to trade Nylander to “make space” for a huge Marner contract. He’s not trading Kadri, Marleau or Zaitsev either. No one is going to get bought out, and there will be no clever solution. The Rosen, Moore and Petan deals are where the cleverness lies.
How Much Will Marner be Overpaid?
In a sense, Marner is going to get the Matthews deal. He’ll get a shorter term deal with an AAV that everyone will think would have been fine if only there was term. What the Matthews deal did was smash the concept of a player buying security with AAV. Matthews said, “I’m worth this now, and later, I’ll get even more,” and he’s not wrong. He will. Marner will want that kind of deal.
Three years at over $9 million, possibly kissing $10 million. And no, I don’t like that one bit, but that’s what I think it will be.