As Mitch Marner tried his best to evade contract talk, Maple Leafs fans were busy bidding hundreds of dollars on a nearby signed photo of him celebrating a goal on Boston’s Tuukka Rask.
The back screen for his All-Star Invitational charity event featured his image in blue and white, Toronto sweaters hung everywhere, while a kid wearing Marner’s No. 16 was on the silent auction program cover and a huge celeb crowd gathered for Thursday night’s gala on the strength of seeing him, John Tavares and former Buds such as Tie Domi.
While he didn’t have news choppers tailing him to this press conference at a restaurant north of the city as Kawhi Leonard did, it’s hard to think of the Markham-born GTA favourite son and two-time leading Leafs scorer playing anywhere else on an offer sheet.
He’d have a hard time pulling this event off in Carolina.
“He’s a hometown kid. I know he loves playing for the Leafs,” said minor-hockey pal and training partner Michael Dal Colle of the New York Islanders. “Hopefully, he gets it done.
There’s no (New York) sell job here. He’ll be successful wherever he plays. I just wish the the best for him.”
The centre who specializes in making something out of nothing on the ice was on the spot Thursday to make nothing out of something as a full bore forecheck of media tried to pry some contract developments from the restricted free agent.
“I guess we’ll find out, but sooner than later,” he said of his preference to settle. “I want to be there for the start of camp. Hopefully, it’s done then, but my agent (Darren Ferris and Marner’s father, Paul, were hovering nearby) and Kyle Dubas are (negotiating). They’ll figure something out.”
General manager Dubas has insisted that talks are ongoing and civil. But not surprisingly, Marner would be reluctant to attend the start of Leafs camp in less than two months without a deal, either the kind of multi-year pact Auston Matthews was awarded at an $11.6-million US average for five years or a bridge deal for good money at less term.
“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so much (injury) risk with that.”
It was this time last year, at Zach Hyman’s golf tourney, that William Nylander had an optimistic tone, only to have his contract standoff drag to within minutes of the Dec. 1 deadline. He and Marner have exchanged notes.
“I’ve talked to him a couple of times, just staying calm with it,” Marner said. “Your agent deals with it and the team deals with it. (Nylander’s) best advice? Stay out of it and enjoy your summer.”
That’s exactly what Marner’s been doing, secure at least in knowing a big pay day awaits somewhere. Yet, his strongest ties remain here, starting with his family, his girlfriend, good times at the cottage and this week, his second annual on ice skills event with several NHLers, OHL juniors, national women’s team stars and Paralympians.
When he heard another buddy Christian Dvorak, of the Arizona Coyotes, had never been to Canada’s Wonderland, they broke from training to brave some rides on Wednesday.
“I’m thinking about how much more money we can raise for a good cause,” Marner insisted. “There are a lot of familiar faces here. I think no matter what, I have a lot of friends and people I call family here. My event will always be held in Toronto. It’s a special place.”
The 22-year-old has been moved by the number of fans who’ve encouraged him to hang in during this uncertainty, and likely advised him not to be tempted by an offer sheet.
“There are Leafs fans everywhere you go, especially in Toronto. They’ve been funny through the whole event and I’m joking with them. The fan base is pretty good. I’m telling them the same thing I’m telling you.
“I’ve stayed off all social media. I didn’t want to focus on that. There’s nothing really good on social media anyway. For me, it’s keep my phone away.”
Not that he’s been far from his usual milieu since the Bruins bounced the Leafs in April’s playoffs.
“A little bit of everything; skating, working out, going up to a lake and surfing. It has been an eventful summer, a lot of fun.
“Make sure I’m being consistent, make sure I’m ready to perform the same and hopefully be better and help our team.”
The one that plays on Bay St.
MITCH WEIGHS IN ON NEW AND OLD LEAFS
Mitch Marner was sad to see the last of Nazem Kadri, but can’t wait to watch Tyson Barrie in action for the Maple Leafs.
“It sucks seeing people traded from our team, especially Naz,” Marner said of the Canada Day deal between the Leafs and Colorado Avalanche. “He’s a great mentor for a lot of our young guys.
“But I know Tyson a bit, I played with him at the worlds (in 2017). He’s a great defenceman and means a lot to our team, a lot to our defence corps.
“It’s hard to pin one thing (Barrie excels at). He has great vision, he can get shots through from the point that seem impossible. It’s another puck moving d-man. (Alex) Kerfoot is another skilled forward.”
Marner had a lot of changes to track this summer. Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Connor Brown, Calle Rosen and likely Jake Gardiner are gone. Barrie, Cody Ceci and Kerfoot arrived, and of course some Marlies and free agents will challenge for jobs.
“Marleau called and let me know before it was released (he was being dealt to Carolina for a buy-out),” Marner said of his father figure, whose four sons he adores. “I talk to him on a daily basis and I’m probably going to see him next weekend. He’s still very close to me and my family. Whatever team gets him next year, he’s going to be great for them.”
Marner also wished William Nylander good luck with his number change from 29 to 88, a switch that caused a lot of debate in a slow summer of local hockey news.
“I know he wears 88 a lot at the worlds and he wore it before Toronto. It’s cool, good for him, he wanted that number since Day 1. Now he’s got it and I’m sure it will look good on him.”
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