Toronto, ON – On another Wednesday night, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews was the star, lighting up the ice.
Oh, and Mitch Marner helped too.
There’s been talk across the National Hockey League (NHL) that the Maple Leafs are top-heavy in contracts. When you have top superstars, you pay them the big bucks. Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner all make $10 million plus. This wouldn’t be a big issue with the deep pockets at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, but what’s valued more is proper salary distribution in a salary-cap league.
And out of the three top Maple Leafs, Mitch Marner making $10.9 million makes the least sense.
First off, salary. Marner is a right winger. And in today’s landscape of the NHL, wingers nor playmakers typically make that type of salary over their offensive scorers or centres.
Marner is the highest paid right winger in the league. The second highest winger, after Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers and slightly above Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks.
The NHL has been known to pay veterans more after they’ve had career accomplishments. Panarin has won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2015-16, while having scored 27 goals or more in each of his five seasons in the NHL and was third in points last season.
Kane has already been there, done that. He’s led the league in points in 2015-16, winning the Art Ross Trophy in that same year, while being in the top five in points in six different seasons. All while leading his Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups, collecting a Conn Smythe as the most valuable player during the playoffs.
Marner the diminutive right winger has yet to be recognized for any NHL award, be in the top five in the league in points or score more than 26 goals.
Panarin and Kane have scored plenty of goals. Marner is a setup man. In the history of the NHL, playmakers tend to not be the money makers.
Looking at the last decade of the league, only the three-time Stanley Cup champion and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has been a top-10 salary in the NHL as a playmaker and two-way forward.
Historically, great playmakers have never made top salary. Ron Francis, Joe Thornton, and Adam Oates have never had a sniff at the salaries of their offensive counterparts. Mario Lemieux, Dany Heatley, and Brett Hull all made higher earnings than their assist machines.
More recently you can look at Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin and his predominant- facilitator, Nicklas Backstrom. While Ovechkin has been making $9.5 million, Backstrom has been making an average of $6.75 million over the same period.
Marner has led the Maple Leafs in points, that should count for something. And yes, Marner has led the blue and white in points for most of the last four years that he’s been in Toronto. Yet, he’s only done so with someone who can put the biscuit in the basket.
Marner’s value is in his playmaking ability. The nifty superstar can vision a play, make the defence buckle and set up his linemates. He is one of the best playmakers in the NHL.
But for each of Marner’s seasons as a Maple Leaf, he’s had a sniper playing alongside him.
During his first two seasons in the NHL, Marner played with James Van Reimsdyk, then John Tavares for the past two years, and now Auston Matthews this season.
While Marner had led the way with assists and points, his snipers have had to complete those opportunities. Van Riemsdyk during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons scored 29 and 36 goals respectively, an average of 32.5 per season while playing with Marner. This season, Van Riemsdyk has scored 13 goals in 31 games, which would be on pace for 31 goals in a full 82 game season, while at the age of 31 past his scoring prime.
Tavares had a career first season as a Maple Leaf with Marner followed by a low year (2018-19 47 goals, 2019-20 26 goals, an average of 36.5). Prior to playing with Marner over four seasons, Tavares averaged 34 goals playing for the New York Islanders.
Matthews, along with Marner, are entering their prime together and having a fantastic year. Both of their numbers will grow as Matthews leads the league in goals while Marner might lead the league in assists setting him up.
Playmakers do not play with big bucks, goal scorers do. For every Mitch Marner, there is an Auston Matthews.
From March 1st to March 20th, Marner played 10 games, acquiring 2 goals and 6 assists, 8 points, while Matthews has 3 goals, 2 assists in nine games as the big center was dealing with wrist issues. Before Matthews was out with a wrist injury, Marner had nine goals, 21 assists for 30 points in 19 games, while Matthews had 18 goals, 11 assists for a total of 29 points.
Marner is a winger. He is a playmaker. And he needs a scorer like Matthews to be healthy and complete the money shot in order to achieve and maintain his success. Maple Leafs are wasting money on Mitch Marner.
Written by Peter Bojarinov @Russian98
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