The NHL saw an offer sheet on Monday, but not for Mitch Marner.
After weeks of retooling his roster by shedding salary, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas had so much cap space that an outside offer for Marner — a restricted free agent – became exceedingly less likely.
Rival GMs knew that once Patrick Marleau’s $6.25-million contract (all dollars U.S.) was off the books following a trade to Carolina — as well as Connor Brown’s $2.1-million salary, included in Monday’s six-player trade with Ottawa — the Leafs could simply match any offer that came along.
“We’ve got lots of cap space, we’ve got different options,” said Dubas. “(Assistant GM) Brandon Pridham, the work he’s done in the last month, he’s going to need a well-deserved vacation when all this wraps up. He and Laurence (Gilman, another assistant GM) have really worked steadfastly, primarily Brandon, on making sure we’re protected to evaluate every single thing that comes in here. I feel we’re well set up for whatever comes our way, but our primary ambition is to try and find an agreement with Mitch.”
The Leafs have almost $14 million of space — which includes putting forward Nathan Horton on long-term injured reserve — after their signings and trades, and have 23 players under contract. They could even go over the cap by 10 per cent, or $8.1 million, until the eve of the season if they needed to.
Marner remained unsigned late Monday, and it was the Montreal Canadiens who finally pulled the trigger on an offer sheet — to Carolina’s Sebastien Aho.
The last one made for a restricted free agent was in 2013.
“It’s part of the CBA and it’s within the rules,” said Dubas. “I get why at times you may not think it’s the proper thing to do or the right thing to do — not in terms of the relationships with the other GMs, but in terms of the cost of getting the player to sign and the compensation that goes along with it. So I guess I’m not surprised.
“A lot of teams had situated themselves well to make them, and teams had situated themselves well to match or to make a decision at the time. It’s interesting, it’s new. It gives us all something to talk about and debate, which is nice.”
The Leafs had heard all the chatter and armed themselves with space. Dubas spent wisely, adding veteran centre Jason Spezza at the league minimum of $700,000 and reaching reasonable deals with forwards Andreas Johnsson ($3.4-million cap hit) and Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million). Dubas admitted he was worried that one of the young Europeans might have been poached.
“There was a realistic opportunity there,” said Dubas. “They’re very, very good young players who have already proven they’re going to be very good in the NHL and have played well. And in Mitch’s case, he’s a star in the NHL.
“You have to be mindful of that and leave yourself protected and well-situated to whatever may come your way, or at least give yourself the ability to make a well-rounded decision and not a defensive one.”
The Leafs aren’t out of the woods yet, and won’t be until Marner is under contract. Dubas hopes to avoid what happened with William Nylander last year, when contract talks dragged on till Dec. 1.
“We continue to talk with Darren (Ferris, Marner’s agent) and will continue to do so,” said Dubas. “Again, the quality of the person first and the player second. It’s important to us that we find a way to get this done.
“I know I set this as a priority and looked at (July 1) as sort of the day we wanted it done by, and we obviously don’t have that yet, but we’ll keep working away, trying to find a way to come to a good conclusion with Darren and Mitch and roll from there.”
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran