Former Maple Leaf Dave Bolland on Mitch Marner’s contract: ‘he should wait out to get what he wants’

TORONTO – Toronto fans are starting to get antsy. For the second consecutive year, the Maple Leafs are facing the prospect of entering a season without one of their core players in the fold. Forward Mitch Marner remains without a contract and training camp is now less than a month away.

Last year it was William Nylander, who missed all of training camp and the first two months of the regular season, before coming to an agreement (six years, $45 million) minutes before the 5 p.m ET deadline on Dec. 1. It was the deal that – more or less – Nylander sought, and ultimately got, after holding his ground.

Now it is Marner’s turn.

After Auston Matthews signed a five-year, $58.17 million contract extension ($11.634 million AAV) two months later, it set a standard in terms for the Leafs’ internal salary structure. If Marner is looking for a similar contract or salary based on his track record over the last two years, there are many who believe he has a legitimate argument to make.

That group includes former Toronto forward and two-time Cup champion David Bolland. He lit Twitter ablaze on Wednesday when he suggested that Marner was “worth more than Matthews for sure.”

Nuance and Twitter never go hand-in-hand, but the Mimico, Ont., native is standing his ground. In fact, he had a lofty comparison for the 22-year old Marner, who has 224 points (67 goals, 157 assists) in 241 career NHL games.

“I think Marner has been their best player,” Bolland told Sporting News. “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.

“He’ll do anything, and can do anything, to help the team win.”

As is often the case nowadays, Marner’s negotiation is turning into a shouting match among the fanbase as people argue whether Marner or Matthews, who has 205 points (111 goals, 94 assists) in 212 career games, is better. That, however, would be missing the point entirely. It’s not about who is a better player – they’re both outstanding players – and Toronto will need them both at their best if they are going to eventually win a Stanley Cup.

Bolland did clarify that his opinion wasn’t a slight against Matthews, who he said is a tremendous player in his own right. His point was that if Matthews can command the contract he received – and deserved – Marner should be able to do as well based on his body of work.

“I’m not saying Matthews is anything less but I’m saying as myself, I see Marner as a top guy that when [head coach Mike] Babcock looks down the bench, he seems to look for Marner,” Bolland said.

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And it’s true.

Marner led all Maple Leafs forwards in ice time last season (19:49), ahead of Matthews (18:33). Marner was also used in more facets of the game than Matthews, earning time on the penalty kill. Additionally, the 22-year-old often drew the most difficult matchup, facing opponents’ top line over the past two seasons and with different linemates; in 2017-18 with Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri and last season with Zach Hyman and John Tavares.

You can argue about Babcock’s decision making in terms of ice time and utilization of his players all you want. We won’t do that here; that’s a story for another day. But in the way Marner was deployed, it is difficult to argue that he did not exceed all expectations.

Bolland’s argument simply is: when you look to identify one player who is indispensable and involved and excels in every single facet of the game, that’s Marner, not Matthews. Again, that is not to diminish Matthews, who is a more dynamic goal scorer than Marner. It’s just that Bolland feels Marner impacts the game in more ways than just pure production and he said that is likely how – and rightly so – Marner is thinking of himself as well.

“I think Marner is a huge key [on] that Leafs team. I think he does a lot of the work,” noted Bolland. “He’s one of the guys, from watching the past two years, that he’s Babcock’s guy and he calls on him for the last two minutes of the game or penalty kill or whenever it’s important.

“I just feel, from what I think, I don’t have any knock on Matthews, he’s still an unbelievable player, but I just love the way Marner plays.”

The fascinating part about Marner is that unlike Toews, he does it all while playing the wing. Babcock has referred to Marner as an “engine who drives a line from the wing” while also comparing him to Patrick Kane in that regard. If Toronto’s management wants to use the “centers are more valuable than wingers” argument, Bolland, who played with Kane in Chicago, doesn’t think Marner should accept that.

“I don’t think it does hold any weight. Marner can play center as well and he is similar to Kane the way he drives from the wing,” Bolland told Sporting News.

Even though Bolland was the center when he played with Kane, that only came into play during defensive zone responsibilities. When it was go-time for offense, he knew it was not him who was driving the line.

“When I played with Kane, when I was the center, I knew I wasn’t going back to get that puck from the defenseman, that was Kane going to do that and that’s what Marner does, he’s the same guy that way,” Bolland said. “He comes around, waits for the defenseman, gets open and then he’s the guy wheeling up the ice with it. I see that similarity for sure between them.”

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So after Nylander got what he felt was his worth and Matthews did the same, it will be difficult for the Leafs to play hardball with Marner, given the level of production and responsibility he has been entrusted with – and excelled at.

Yes, the Maple Leafs are in a cap crunch. No, that is not Marner’s fault. All he’s done is play well.

As Bolland said, “In Marner’s position, he should wait out to get what he wants because he’s a huge key and he’s the main guy I think on that team for the Leafs who’s going to take them to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup, that’s how I feel.”

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