TORONTO – Before Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas took any questions from the media to open the team's 2019 training camp on Thursday, there was something he had to get off his chest.
Unsurprisingly, it had to do with restricted free agent Mitch Marner, who is still unsigned and conspicuously absent from the Leafs’ expansive training camp roster of 75 players.
“I’m happy to address the matter today,” Dubas said of the ongoing negotiations with Marner. “He’s obviously not here for the beginning of camp. But then after that, we won’t have anything from our end until there’s a solution to the matter one way or the other...it’ll be radio silence from us.”
The declaration from Dubas came a day after TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported the Leafs have offered Marner contracts that were seven or eight years in length, and worth around $11 million per season. The 22-year-old winger’s camp has been countering with three-year deals, worth in the $9-$10 million per season range, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, which has led to the current stalemate.
Dubas touched on a host of topics in a lengthy session with reporters following his preamble, including how contentious negotiations have been with Marner, the Leafs' captaincy, how his relationship with head coach Mike Babcock has evolved and whether the Leafs finally have a championship-calibre roster.
On whether Marner’s side (including agent Darren Ferris) has been reasonable during negotiations:
“I think in every negotiation, everybody thinks on their side they’re being reasonable and I think the major argument then comes down to arguing who’s more reasonable then the other. I think that happens in every negotiation we have, whether it’s at home or in business or employment or public contract negotiations like this where there is obviously a strong public investment in the matter and people who care deeply about the team. I think at times they’ve probably thought we haven’t been reasonable and I would say it’s vice versa in every negotiation we do. But I don’t try to get too tied into that. Mitch is a great player. He’s a great person who comes in here every day and brings great energy and enthusiasm and has obviously had a great three years here. So we’re just focused on trying to bring it to an end and always keep that [positive thought process about Marner] in mind, regardless of the noise is around the situation.”
On how Marner’s negotiation compares to William Nylander’s a year ago:
“I don’t think they’re all too similar. William’s situation is one where, we’ve discussed a lot, it was really a three-, four-month process, and this one [with Marner] was much longer than that. One of the things we’ve learned is, once it starts, continuing to give updates and continuing to discuss it is not always the best. I know it doesn’t serve the media and the public overly well, but…we want to handle it that way and we’ll roll from there. Just continuing to stay in contact and find our way to a solution – don’t let too much time go by and wait each other out.”
On his level of concern that the relationship between the Leafs and Marner could be permanently strained:
“In the end, these [stalemates] happen. With William, there were some heated times as well, but that relationship is excellent. I have faith with all these things that once it comes to a solution, we’ll probably have to have a very blunt discussion about things and then we’ll carry on. There are going to be no grudges from our end whatsoever.”
On maintaining confidence a deal with Marner will be struck:
“I’ll stick with the same answer I’ve given for a long time – I’m optimistic that we will [get him signed]. You don’t want to envision the team missing players at any point, and we’re hopeful to get it done. I would feel a little differently personally if there weren’t other situations around the league that were sort of in the same stalemate position [with unsigned RFAs]. I think that will influence things as well.”
On whether the Leafs will name a captain at some point during training camp:
“I don’t know. That’s the most honest answer I can give. We talk about it frequently, and I think a lot of it is driven by the fact that [the media] likes to talk about it. A year ago, I stood here and had different conversations where I didn’t think it was the most important thing. I think now, having gone through a season with the group [as GM], we have a great number of leaders in [the room] and they are all independently capable of doing the job. The one thing we don’t want to do is rush just to make it happen and say it’s done and do it now versus waiting until we’re absolutely 100 per cent sure and then regret that decision later. So we’re just going to be absolutely certain about that because it’s an important thing to the community and the organization.”
On the state of his relationship with head coach Mike Babcock:
“We talk every day – sometimes multiple times per day. After the first three years here together, where I was in a different role [as assistant GM], you obviously get to know each other. [But] you aren’t working as closely as we did last season, so you take last season and you begin to get used to each other and then at the end of the year reflect on how it went. I think it went great. We disagree, as any coach and GM do, a lot; we agree on a lot of things and work though it all. The key thing is, on the areas where you disagree, you respect one another and work through all that and I think we’ve worked on that throughout the season and through the summer just with some honest discussions. It’s been very, very enjoyable and I’m excited for the season with him.”
On whether the Leafs made enough off-season additions to compete for the Stanley Cup:
“I know it disappoints a lot of people, but I don’t ever look at it as, ‘Can this roster do X?’ It’s really, ‘Can this roster give us chances to accomplish those types of things?’ Can the roster that’s put together at the beginning of the year get better each day throughout and each game throughout and weather different storms and adversity that come its way during the season and roll from there? Mike has proven he’s a coach capable of winning the Stanley Cup. He’s been to the final on two other occasions, and gone to Game 7 in both of those. I know the coaching staff and with their work ethic and preparation…are going to do their part and I have a lot of faith in the core of the group that they’re going to do theirs as well. In the end, you hope you get some [good] fortune and step up in key moments and it results in success.”