Why the Mitch Marner extension needs to get done quickly this summer

Dean Chaudhry
April 11, 2024  (8:52)

Leafs winger Mitch Marner focused during warmups
Photo credit: USA Today Sports

While the Toronto Maple Leafs have a slew of unrestricted free agents to deal with this summer, one of their main priorities should be locking up Mitch Marner for the foreseeable future - and sooner rather than later.

Entering the 2023-24 regular season, Mitch Marner carried the 8th highest cap hit in the NHL behind only Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Drew Doughty, and John Tavares. Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs are in a position where they have to extend their core players, and while they were successful in locking up Auston Matthews and William Nylander ahead of time, there are no guarantees that they'll be able to do the same with Marner and Tavares, who both have one year remaining on their deals and will be eligible to sign an extension on July 1st.
Current general manager Brad Treliving took over while the Leafs were in a near chaotic state and was thrust into an unenviable position just ahead of the draft. Fast forward almost a full calendar year and the veteran GM has done a rather impressive job at the helm. Most importantly, he extended Matthews for another 4 years in August, and then he gave Nylander the 8-year max term in January. With the cap expected to rise exponentially over the next few seasons, the pay raises each player received should eat up all of that extra cap space next season and a good chunk beyond next season.
With Matthews and Nylander locked up, they still have Marner and Tavares for the 2024-25 season. However, one would have to imagine that they would love to jump to the chase and avoid the media circus that would ensue should Marner not have a contract extension by the time the 2024-25 season starts. We saw it more so with Nylander than we did with Matthews but it was a huge relief for the young Swede to get the deal done, especially with the amount of rumours that swirled for months on end.
It will cost an arm and a leg to retain Marner's services, as one of the league's premier playmakers, but based on the going rate for most superstars, it's hard to envision the Maple Leafs front office not willing to pay up. He will most likely get more than Nylander but slightly less than Matthews, putting him smack dab in the middle of their cap hits at around $12M-$12.5M per season - unless, of course, his agent Darrin Ferris holds out for a deal even larger than that of Matthews.
Having all 3 locked up until at least 2027-28 is of the utmost importance to try to capitalize on their contention window, and once the deal is done, then you can worry about the trickle down effect to the rest of the roster.
Nevertheless, getting Marner's contract done and dusted as soon as you can avoids the massive media headache that will ensue, especially if Marner follows suit with Nylander and has a career-season that would drive his price even higher. Not to mention the fact that entering the 2024-25 season with a firm number in the books for 2025-26 and beyond makes it easier to make decisions on a player like John Tavares, whose contract is also set to expire in the summer of 2025 - though the captain will almost assuredly be taking a steep discount if he hopes to remain a Leaf.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old Marner has been nothing short of fantastic since he's stepped onto the ice for the Maple Leafs. He has tallied 440 assists and 633 points in 572 games, hasn't had a season where he scored less than 61 points, and has come within a few points of 100 on 3 separate occasions. Even more impressive is that he is currently 8th all-time in franchise history in points. Health permitting, Marner is just a few productive seasons away from jumping into 3rd place. Keeping him around alongside Matthews is imperative for them as individuals, as teammates, and for the overall team success.
Outside of Marner, the biggest question mark will be surrounding their captain. At a cap hit of $11 million per season, Tavares will be a few months short from turning 35 by the time July 1st comes around in 2025. The grizzled veteran will surely want to remain in Toronto and look to capitalize on one final big money contract but if he wants to remain a Maple Leaf, he'll likely have to eye something similar to or less than the Anze Kopitar deal (a short-term deal at $7M AAV).
The Leafs have a talented list of unrestricted free agents at the end of the season that includes the likes of Max Domi, T.J. Brodie, Tyler Bertuzzi, Joel Edmundson, and Ilya Samsonov among others. It's very safe to assume that they will be looking to extend at least Samsonov and Domi to long-term deals and they may also take a look at bringing Bertuzzi back, depending on his ask. They will have to plug in players to fill out their roster as they have done so successfully over the last few years which will help when they enter the summer of 2025.
Tavares has definitely struggled this season with just 24 goals and 60 points to his name but he has turned things around in the last 2 months with 26 points in his last 30 games after enduring a rough stretch of 18 games where he tallied just 3 goals and 5 points with a minus-10 rating. He still has a lot left in the tank and a hometown discount is not completely out of the question, however it needs to be on the table.
Once Matthews, Nylander, and Marner are extended, the Maple Leafs can then worry about Tavares, but if they had to choose one over the other, the choice is rather obvious. At 35-years-of-age, it's hard to imagine Tavares commanding a lot of money, but if he continues to produce in the 70-80 point range, it's going to be a little tough to convince him otherwise. Nevertheless, first thing's first, find new deals for Samsonov and Domi, extend Marner, plug in the rest of your roster, and then see how the cookie crumbles for Tavares when the time comes. It may mean a short-term deal or it may mean simply allowing the captain to walk as a UFA. A trade I'd probably off the table for Tavares, who owns a full no-movement clause.
11 AVRIL   |   359 ANSWERS
Why the Mitch Marner extension needs to get done quickly this summer

Should the Maple Leafs extend Marner as soon as possible or wait it out to make him sweat?

Yes, avoid the media circus as soon as you can22663 %
No, make him play for the AAV he's looking for6919.2 %
Indifferent, we already know what his AAV will be6417.8 %
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