Good effort putting all this argument together.
I don't dispute that Marner is the highly talented winger you describe. Most people don't. But I still think it's a bad signing. And I'm not saying this with the benefit of hindsight: I was saying the exact same thing before the contract was signed and the pandemic started! Many reasons.
- If the AAV price was about 11M during negotiations, higher than any winger in the league, management had to bridge. That's what most Canadian GMs did, rightly so. The reasoning is that even after the bridge and without COVID, the AAV for wingers would have increased to the level his agent was asking for, at best. So, you gain cap space for 3-4 years.
- Psychologically, it's not desirable for a young player not named McDavid to become the highest paid player at his position (nobody is at McDavid's level). Too much pressure. I said that before: exceeding expectations always feels better, more motivating. Maybe the blame is other people's greed. But if Marner had a 9M AAV right now, nobody would have a negative thing to say about him. It would feel great for him.
The last playoffs are a good example. Keefe played him 25 minutes a game. It's like he was saying: you wanted that contract, now deliver. The reality is, however, this level of ice time is well beyond optimal.
In short: you can spoil the development of young players by raising the bar too high, too soon. Mitch throwing the puck in the stands is not him failing the fans. It's the people around him who failed him in his development, from his agent to the GM.
- You mentioned the PK several times. It's great. I like defensively reliable players, too. But to be frank, Marner should not play on the PK in the first place. Other players can do it, and fill that role with the same efficiency, if not more. Being a reliable defender at even strength is more than sufficient for Marner. Unless you change the entire system of the team, and become like Boston. But the Leafs aren't Boston. With regards to special teams, his focus should be the PP.
- Rantanen, Kucherov are comparables. Rantanen doesn't fill the same defensive role, but he has physicality and a better goal scoring touch. That's worth something. Kucherov is at another level entirely: his play under pressure and intense coverage is unparalleled. The way Tampa supported his development was exemplary. They went step by step, and of course, he was bridged. In fact, both players are better managed, because they have realistic expectations. And their cap hit is about just right.
With all that said, I like your attitude. I'm tired of cap discussions anyway, especially after the fact, since we can't change that anymore. So it may be better to see the glass half full.
Firstly, I have to say that the way you constructed your response is exemplary. An extremely great read with some very valid points that you backed up nicely with facts. I can't really dispute much you said as it all makes sense, but I have some things I want to discuss.
I have to say that your point regarding bridging Marner makes sense the more I think about it. If his contract expired next summer, he would be paid the exact same amount as he is paid now, So for these 3 years if he was bridged around $7.5-$8M, we would have had some extra cap space to play with. I really didn't think about it that way before you mentioned it.
Secondly, I do disagree with your opinion on the contract putting too much pressure on Marner. Since his draft year, Marner has not been anything other than a stud. He even had an excellent rookie campaign in the OHL almost hitting a ppg while actually doing it in the playoffs for the London Knights, a team that is known for making their young talent have to work and earn that spot in the top six. He did it in his rookies year with players 4 years older than him. His draft year he was the best player on the team when there still was players 3 years older than him. Max Domi who was picked 12th overall in the draft 2 years earlier, was outshone by Marner. We don't even have to talk about the season after his draft year, the numbers a pure comedy, especially in the playoffs. He already had all that pressure built on him when entering the league and still managed to produce an excellent rookie season in the NHL (61 points in 77 games). He survived that kind of pressure, in addition to having Mike Babcock as a coach who at stretches played Mitch on the 4th line. He showed to me at least that he wasn't the kind of player that gets fazed when the pressure builds up. I think he has proven since then that he can handle pressure very well. Somebody has to be the highest paid player on their position, why can't it be Mitch, from a psychological perspective?
While playing him 25 minutes a game in the playoffs is a little bit ridiculous, I don't think Keefe was wrong in riding him and Matthews. They are our two best players without question, and I want them on the ice as much as possible, especially in the playoffs. What I would question is why Nylander is playing more than 7 minutes less, the difference between the two isn't 7 minutes a game different. I didn't view it as Keefe saying ''you wanted that contract, now deliver.'' In my view, it was more of a ''please, bail me out here, I don't know what to do.'' I do like Keefe as a HC, but he couldn't really adapt to JT going down, in a series we were up 3-1 in without him. I don't think Mitch has got too much too soon, I think that is the media narrative around him. From what I have read and seen, he seems like a very humble young man that works extremely hard to improve at a sport he already is one of the greatest currently active at playing it. He never comes off as rude, selfish, childish, spoiled or ignorant that you would link to someone that has got too much in life too early on.
At one point, I would completely agree with you and not have Mitch Involved with the PK anymore. I think it was a waist of his energy and would negatively impact his offensive impact. But, if you look at his production levels during the regular season, he has been on 90+ point pace the least 3 season with the most recent season having a pace for 30 goals and 100 points. This idea I am about to present doesn't have anything statistically to back it up with. It is more of a hunch that I have. I believe Marner is one of those players that just feeds of being involved in the game at all the time, it almost is as if he doesn't have enough time to sit down and think about what is happening, he can sort of just ''feel'' the game if that makes sense to you at all? His hockey IQ is actually through the roof, he must surely be in the top 10 of players in the league with the highest hockey IQ, something I would think defensemen and players that play in the middle would top. My point is that, by playing him in all situations, which won't make you worse at a team at all due to his high intelligence will only benefit him and you as a team, because he almost always impacts the game in a positive way, by making the right play or the impossible play that us casuals could only dream of executing. I wonder if the Leafs ever would give Marner and Kerfoot a chance to play together shorthanded. Their IQ's are of the chart's. I think they could expose some power plays that aren't sharp. Not suggesting that they would lead the league in shorthanded points, but it would also not surprise me.
I love Mikko Rantanen as a player and he has some skills that Marner don't. Like you said, his physicality and goal scoring touch should definitely be something that you take into consideration. However, respectfully, I don't think Marner and Rantanen are on the same level. Both of them play with players generally considered in the top five in the league so they both play with phenomenal players and on phenomenal teams. Rantanen will probably score 40 goals at some point in his career, and Marner will likely have a season with 30. However, I doubt Rantanen will ever be able to develop into a player that can dominate every single situation the game throws at him, just like Marner can. I think that people overlook the defensive side of the game too much. I am not saying that you are one of those people, but defense is 50% of the game, so I think it should be worth mentioning when a player is among the best at both facets of the game.
With respect to Marner, he is not on Nikita Kucherov's level. I like that you pointed out the way that they developed him. Kucherov as a player coming from a complete different hockey culture, continent was someone that Tampa likely knew was going to be fragile if he was put under too much pressure too soon. Frankly, the same thing applies to Rantanen that also played I the AHL before making the jump. I don't think Marner needed that, he was from the local area he was going to play in, he knew all about the pressure and the history of the team. I could honestly not think of another player that could have handled everything as well as he has done. Obviously Matthews helps to shoulder the burden as well, and he is just special as pressure doesn't affect him as well either.
At the end of the day, I think Marner will prove all his critiques wrong. I am not saying that the Leafs will win a cup, but he will at some point have a crazy playoff run which will make all of this forgotten. He is just too good of a player not too, Same applies to AM34.