The simple answer to the foregoing question is, “Whatever the market determines”. Of course, in a salary cap world, it’s never that simple. The restricted free agency “market” isn’t a real market, given the punitive covenants attached to offer sheets (i.e. 4 first round picks), along with the overriding existence of a hard salary cap. So relative value comes into play, both in financial terms and also terms of the value of the position itself.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Mitch Marner is a great player and is going to be paid a lot of money by someone. And he and his agent are well within their rights to maximize their limited leverage in as many ways as they can. At the same time, if the goal is to match the kind of contract that Auston Matthews received, I’m guessing that’s a profoundly misplaced goal. But Matthews vs Marner seems to be the debating point that is currently driving Leafs’ Nation crazy (if the comments on social media are at all representative).
If you have to bend over backwards with NHL analytics to prove your point you’ve already lost because NHL analytics are highly subjective. In terms of hockey value I like goals as a measure of offensive production since it’s indisputably quantifiable. Assists are obviously important, but they are a derivative of goals. They can pile up if SOMEONE is putting the puck in the net and secondary assists are iffy judgment calls.
So let’s look at who scores: John Tavares almost scored 50 last year, scored 3 in the playoffs, and in his career has a 42% goal-game ratio. No question, Mitch Marner elevated JT’s stats last year, but not inordinately so given the historic stats of Tavares. As far as Auston Matthews goes, he scored 37 goals in 68 games last year, 5 goals in 7 playoff game, and over the course of his career has an incredible 52% goals-game ratio. That’s a team-defining goal scorer.
By contrast, Marner had 26 goals (but somehow improved his point total by 36%), he had 2 goals in the playoffs, and in his career has a 27% goals-game ratio. To argue that he’s as value to the Leafs as Matthews and Tavares is extremely unfair – to Matthews and Tavares. And it explains why no GM would see it that way, even though the Marner fanboys (and apparently, Marner and his agent) continue to make the case that receiving less somehow constitutes “disrespecting” the player.
Sometimes the alleged “centre of the hockey universe” can be a bit myopic when it comes to looking at the big picture. But looking at the NHL as a whole, no high profile restricted free agent has yet signed, other than Sebastian Aho, who signed an offer sheet that was easy for Carolina to match. And it is a comparable that was not particularly supportive of Marner’s bid to be paid Matthews-like dollars.
Perhaps the Marner team might invoke the Artemi Panarin as a comparable, because he got the $ Marner wants and both are playmaking wingers. Again, the numbers are not necessarily supportive to Marner: Panarin is 4 1/2 yrs older but has just 1 more year of NHL experience. For his career, his goal-game ratio is 36% and he’s a point per game player on the nose. He also has maintained this production in the playoffs over 4 seasons, and as we all saw he can control play from the wing against a physical team in a way Marner still needs to learn. Additionally, the “bread man” was a UFA, so he could sign a contract without the team paying back draft compensation.
So who’s worth $11.5m and who’s worth less? It really isn’t that complicated. If the Leafs will pay him more than $10m that’s generous. Perhaps a team will come along this summer and extend that elusive offer sheet (although nobody is going to give up 4 first round picks if the Marner team does not agree to max term, which was reported the issue which dissuaded the Columbus Blue Jackets from extending an offer sheet, according to Elliotte Friedman of SportsNet). Or perhaps one of Rantanen, Tkachuk, Point or Laine will establish a new benchmark. But the longer this goes on, the less likely that is to happen.
So far it appears that the Marner team has dramatically misread the tea leaves. Too early to tell whether this ultimately leads to a Nylander-like holdout, but there is nothing particularly demeaning in the way that Toronto has undertaken this negotiation. Quite the contrary in fact. The Big 3 on the Leafs – Matthews, Tavares, and Marner – are different players, all very valuable, which any team would want in a vacuum. But if you want pure scoring Matthews is your man. If you want a little less scoring but veteran perspective and leadership, you take Tavares. And if you can’t get either of them, well, Marner may be the one you can pick off because they really value the other 2 more. That’s how this is playing out and it makes total sense. And what is also becoming clear as these negotiations proceed is that Marner transparently doesn’t want to leave unless it’s a perfect deal for him. Which he’ll never get. Because he isn’t McDavid or Matthews – teams aren’t moving heaven and earth for him so far (despite predictions to the contrary). We all saw the playoffs, objectively HE needs to do better against a tough, physical team. That’s just reality. It’s why he is where he is today as a player. If he thinks he can do better, then let him take a short term bridge, bet on himself again 2-3 years down the road, and spare everybody the agony of a pointless holdout.