The main event of the NHL’s offseason finally arrived Friday — just as the league’s 31 teams returned to the ice for training camp around North America — when Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner signed a six-year, $65.358 million contract, an annual average value of $10.893 million.
Marner now stands as Toronto’s third highest paid player after the completion of a deal long in the making. According to CapFriendly, the Maple Leafs have enlisted three of the league’s seven highest-paid players in its search for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1967.
The negotiation process was neither quick nor easy for either camp. It was filled with rumors that another team would offer sheet Marner, or that Marner would play in Switzerland until his situation was resolved.
Here is the story of Mitch Marner’s career thus far: how the fourth-overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft earned the second-largest contract of any active winger at just age 22, and how his contract may affect the team moving forward.
Mitch Marner’s career timeline, from prospect to NHL star
June 26, 2015
The Toronto Maple Leafs select 18-year-old Mitch Marner with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. In four years since, Marner has scored more points than all but two players taken in that draft — Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, 2015’s first and second overall selections.
July 28, 2015
Marner signs a standard three-year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs just over one month after he was drafted, giving him a clear shot to make the NHL as early as that fall. Marner’s entry-level salary cap hit is under $1 million.
September 27, 2015
Marner is cut from the Maple Leafs’ preseason roster ahead of the 2015-16 NHL season and reassigned to his junior team, the London Knights, in the Ontario Hockey League. Because he did not play at least 10 games in the NHL that season, Marner’s entry-level contract slides to the next year, extending through the 2018-19 season.
Marner tears up the OHL, scoring 39 goals and 77 assists in 56 games played. These numbers put him third in total points among all players and second in points per game. He scored at a near historic pace in the postseason, capping off a fantastic final season of junior hockey in which his team won both the OHL’s championship and the Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League’s championship.
October 12, 2016
Marner makes his NHL debut with the Maple Leafs alongside fellow rookie (and 2016 first-overall pick) Auston Matthews. This game is perhaps better remembered as the night Matthews scored four goals to introduce himself to the NHL.
October 15, 2016
Marner scores his first NHL goal as part of a 4-1 Maple Leafs win over the Boston Bruins.
Marner scores 61 points (19 goals, 42 assists) in his first NHL season and helps the Leafs make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Toronto is eliminated by the Washington Capitals in round one and Marner scores one goal and three assists in the series to end his rookie year.
The 19-year-old finishes fifth in Calder Memorial Trophy voting for the league’s rookie of the year. Leafs teammate Auston Matthews claims the award.
Marner leads the Maple Leafs in scoring with 69 points (22 goals, 47 assists) in his second season. Neither he nor Matthews succumb to the sophomore slump (Matthews scores 61 points) and the Leafs form a formidable young triumvirate between the two and youngster Willian Nylander.
On March 28, 2018, the National Post publishes an article exploring how much the team should pay its young stars when their entry level contracts do expire. Nylander’s contract expires first, and reporter Michael Traikos estimates him to sign a similar contract to Boston’s David Pastrnak (eight years, $40 million). As for Marner and Matthews? Traikos writes that there is no reason Marner should not demand the same amount of money as Matthews should he continue to produce at the same level.
The Leafs meet the Boston Bruins in the playoffs’ first round and it’s Marner who leads the team, scoring nine points in a seven-game series that Toronto eventually loses to its Atlantic Division rival. Marner’s nine points are four more than any other Leafs skater in that series and he noticeably performs better than Matthews, who manages only one goal and one assist.
July 1, 2018
The Maple Leafs sign John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract. The deal immediately makes Toronto one of the league’s most dangerous teams, but raises questions as to how general manager Kyle Dubas will be able to keep his core together as Nylander’s contract expires and Marner and Matthews enter the final year of their entry-level deals.
Marner ups the ante in his third NHL season by scoring 94 points, the most of any Maple Leafs skater, and finishes 11th in total scoring among all NHL players.
Dec. 1, 2018
Toronto signs Nylander to a six-year contract just before the deadline of when unsigned RFAs can still sign and play in the league that season.
Feb. 5, 2019
Toronto extends Matthews’ contract for five years, giving the young star $11.634 million per year through the 2023-24 season and making him the team’s highest-paid player. For Marner’s camp, it’s a signal that it’s time to get serious with the Leafs about his next contract, and they don’t appear willing to play nice.
In the aftermath of Matthews’ signing, TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweets that there is likely a “big gap” between what the Leafs want to pay Marner and what Marner’s camp wants.
May 28, 2019
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Marner’s camp could extend contract talks with the Leafs past July 1, which would officially make Marner a restricted free agent and allow other teams to offer contracts to him via an offer sheet. Dreger expects the Leafs to make an “aggressive offer” to Marner.
Dubas tells reporters in the days before the NHL Draft that should the Leafs’ restricted free agents sign an offer sheet after July 1, the team may not match it. During the draft, he finalizes contract extensions for RFAs Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnson, leaving the team with roughly $8 million in cap space to sign Marner. It is also rumored that Toronto is shopping center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in trade talks.
July 1, 2019
Marner officially becomes a restricted free agent. Toronto trades Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a package including defenseman Tyson Barrie, whose $2.75 million cap hit lessens the burden on Toronto’s salary cap situation.
July 12, 2019
The Columbus Blue Jackets, among other teams, are rumored to be considering presenting Marner an offer sheet.
July 18, 2019
Marner says he has not “paid attention at all” to rumors regarding his contract situation with the Leafs in an interview with TSN. He reveals little else about negotiations save for momentarily answering “Yep,” to a question on whether or not a new contract may be imminent.
August 7, 2019
The Maple Leafs reportedly consider different contracts for Marner that would fall between $9 million and $11 million per season depending on the length of the deal. It is also reported that Marner declined a max-term (seven years) contract that would have paid him $10 million each season.
August 22, 2019
Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal reports that Marner’s camp contacted the Zurich Lions, a Swiss professional team, about playing for the team in Europe until his NHL contract situation is resolved.
“I think Marner has been their best player,” Bolland tells Sporting News in an interview. “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.”
September 11, 2019
It is reported that the Maple Leafs offered Marner seven and eight-year contracts with average annual values of $11 million, but Marner’s camp took issue with the fact that it’s still less money than Matthews makes.
September 13, 2019
Marner finally ends the offseason’s most thrilling contract saga as the league opens up training camps, agreeing to a six-year deal with the Maple Leafs that makes his annual cap hit $10.893 per season. The 22-year-old, who is about to start making a lot of money, tweets that he’s “exactly where [he] wants to be.”
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