VAUGHAN, Ont. – Mitch Marner’s summer has already included wakesurfing tricks and throwing a big-time charity event.
What’s yet to materialize for the restricted free agent winger is a new contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 22-year-old opened his Marner All-Star Invitational on Thursday night just north of the city, and while the focus was on raising money for worthy causes, the conversation inevitably pivoted to negotiations between himself and the team.
“I’m just trying to stay away from the talk,” Marner said. “I’ve been spending most of my summer up by the lake and relaxing.
“(My agent has been) dealing with everything and has done a great job.”
Marner directed questions about contract talks to that agent, Darren Ferris, who was in attendance.
Ferris declined to comment.
“He’s done this a lot longer than I have,” Marner said. “I’ve got all my confidence in him.”
It’s rumoured Marner wants to be paid somewhere in the neighbourhood of the five-year, US$58.17-million extension Auston Matthews signed with Toronto in February — that deal carries an annual average value of $11.634 million — and the seven-year, $77-million pact fellow centre John Tavares inked as an unrestricted free agent last summer.
Anything in that ballpark would make him the highest-paid winger in NHL history.
Marner said he’s been avoiding his phone as much as possible and has turned off commenting on his social media posts and negotiations continue.
But it’s hard to not hear the noise as fans begin to get restless.
“Everyone’s always on social media,” said Marner, who posted a video to Instagram of him completing his first 360-degree wakesurfing spin last week. “For me, it’s just staying away from the mentions and the comments.”
He added that the fans he’s interacted with in person haven’t crossed a line.
“They’ve been pretty funny,” he said. “It’s been funny joking around with them.”
But the fact remains Marner’s situation is starting to feel like the one that saw William Nylander and the Leafs at odds over the then-RFA’s compensation 12 months ago. The Swedish forward eventually agreed to a six-year, $45-million contract in December that carries a salary cap hit of just over $6.96 million for the next five seasons.
Nylander, however, struggled once he returned to the lineup, finishing with just seven goals and 27 points in 54 games.
“Just staying calm with it,” Marner said of what Nylander told him about dealing with negotiations. “Stay out of it … enjoy your summer.”
Marner led the Leafs with career-highs in points (94) and assists (68) in 2018-19, and also set a new personal best with 26 goals. He played mostly on a line with Tavares, who set career-highs of his own with 47 goals and 88 points. Marner’s previous high for points was the 69 he put up in 2017-18.
“Every goal here is to be at training camp,” said the native of nearby Markham, Ont. “We’ve still got a lot of time until that happens.”
Marner is one of a number of high-profile unsigned RFAs — a list that includes Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.
“Everyone’s in the same boat,” Marner said. “We’re all letting our agents do the and talking.”
There was some movement July 1 when Montreal tendered an offer sheet to Carolina centre Sebastian Aho — the first in the NHL since 2013 — only to see the five-year, front-loaded, bonus-heavy deal worth $42.27 million get matched.
“It became a pretty big thing,” Marner said of Aho’s Canada Day bombshell. “There was a big buzz.”
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said last month that Toronto wouldn’t necessarily match an offer sheet if one of its prominent RFA forwards — Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson — signed with another club.
Marner wouldn’t say if he’d entertain signing an offer sheet of his own if one was presented. The Leafs would receive up to four first-round picks if they declined to match.
Dubas called getting Marner signed “priority one” back in April after Toronto was eliminated by Boston in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight spring. Kapanen and Johnsson signed extensions last month.
With time to reflect since the end of the season, Marner felt the series was there for the taking.
“We had the lead,” he said. “We have to learn to put the foot down on peoples’ throats.”
Marner also wasn’t happy with his play as the series wore on. He scored twice in the opener, but had just two assists the rest of the way, and no points over the final three games.
“Auston came to play … so did John,” said Marner, who is focusing a lot on shooting drills this summer. “I wasn’t happy with how I ended up in that series. I wanted to be better.”
In its second year, the two-day Marner All-Star Invitational, which is put on in conjunction with his charity, the Marner Assist Fund, kicked off with current and former NHL players and Olympians arriving on a blue carpet.
Asked about the changes the Leafs have made this off-season — veterans Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri and Nikita Zaitsev have all moved on, while Tyson Barrie, Jason Spezza, Alex Kerfoot and Cody Ceci are among the new arrivals — Marner said it was difficult to watch unfold.
“It hurts losing guys you’ve grown close to, but we’ve brought in some high-end players,” he said. “The team looks promising.”
Now it just needs clarity on the last, big piece of the puzzle.
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