New Jersey Devils Should Steer Clear of Mitch Marner Discourse

The Toronto Maple Leafs had yet another playoff disappointment, losing in overtime of Game 7 in the first round. Now with major changes likely on the horizon, the New Jersey Devils should avoid getting involved, especially when it comes to Mitch Marner.
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Three
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Three / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

The New Jersey Devils have a lot on their plate this offseason. First and foremost, they need a new head coach. Some say they are hoping to get time with Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, but this all hinged on the Toronto Maple Leafs letting Sheldon Keefe go. We'll see what happens in the next few days and weeks, but for now, we do know the Maple Leafs have to change something.

Even if they do fire Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs will be making changes to the roster. They are expelling 10s of millions of dollars in salary cap hits, but they still have a goalie to sign (Joseph Woll is great, but he can't stay healthy, as we saw in Game 7), at least two defensemen but likely three, and they have to reinforce the forward core. Two of their best players in the series, Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, are both unrestricted free agents and could likely get a raise.

That’s a lot to do with just $18 million in cap space. The reason the Leafs have so many holes on the roster yet so little cap space to fill them is the fact they are paying four forwards more than $10.9 million per season. They tested out something nobody else in the league did, and it’s clearly not working. John Tavares fell out of his prime years at the worst time. Auston Matthews got injured. William Nylander got sick. The only one without an excuse is Mitch Marner.

The 27-year-old finished the series with three points and only one goal. That’s obviously not good enough for a player who’s getting paid close to $11 million. Even beyond his salary, Marner is a better player than he’s shown. He was probably the biggest reason for David Pastrnak’s series-winning goal. 

Now, it looks like he’s the most obvious trade candidate on the team. He’s in the final year of his contract, and his overall numbers suggest he’ll ask for a raise. The Maple Leafs thought the cap was going to go up, but the COVID-era flat cap has the NHL and its teams still adjusting to previous deals. We don’t see the Maple Leafs talking extension this offseason after this performance.

It’s much more likely the Leafs are talking to other teams and hoping to get a haul for Marner’s services. The Devils are very often in the conversation for the top available players in the league. They eventually got their big fish in Timo Meier, but Marner would fit nicely on a top six with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. 

However, the Devils should steer clear of Marner. We already talked about the contract. The Devils cannot, and likely will not, add any player looking for/making north of $10 million. The Devils aren’t working with much more cap space than the Leafs, so adding an immediate player at that price point would really hamper their ability to sign and trade for necessary upgrades in goal and on defense. On top of that, the extension would hurt even more than that. 

There’s also the issue of assets. What will the Maple Leafs want in return? They will likely use Marner to make a “hockey trade.” While many of us can admit that Marner might bring more on paper than Jesper Bratt or Timo Meier, it’s hard to argue the difference is extreme enough to make up for his lack of extension. Bratt and Meier both showed by the end of the year that they are part of the solution in New Jersey. 

Then there’s the whole “why is Marner disappearing” situation. Do the Devils really need to figure that out while also ingesting a new coach and answering their own questions (like can Jack Hughes go a full 82)? This isn’t the same Devils team as last offseason. They aren’t on the ground floor of a dynasty anymore. 

It’s just a bad idea for the Devils to pitch for Marner. Other upgrades at forward make sense, but they desperately need players who can play center. Marner is largely a wing. There’s no reason for the Devils to go after Marner even if he would make the team better on paper.