Leafs GM says team might let Marner walk if young star signs offer sheet

Kyle Dubas says if Mitch Marner — or the Maple Leafs' other restricted free agents, for that matter — signs an offer sheet with another team, Toronto might let the player walk.

Kyle Dubas says salary cap will force organization to consider compensation rather than match

Mitch Marner will be a restricted free agent if he doesn't sign with the Maple Leafs prior to July 1. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Kyle Dubas says if Mitch Marner — or the Maple Leafs' other restricted free agents, for that matter — signs an offer sheet with another team, Toronto might let the player walk.

Speaking ahead of the NHL draft, the Leafs general manager told reporters he would have to look at each case on an individual basis if a rival organization tried to poach Marner or fellow RFA forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson after July 1.

"We're at the point now, we can speak openly about it, it would really depend," Dubas said following the GM meetings on Thursday. "If there were an offer sheet we'd look at what they are and what the compensation is for our team and make the decision."

Teams have seven days to match offer sheets handed to an RFA. The compensation going to the club losing a player varies depending on the annual average value of the contract, but the Leafs would receive four first-round picks if Marner's signs for north of $10.568 million US annually.

"If the dollar amount doesn't make sense in terms of our internal economics in the marketplace and the compensation and such, it's going to be a decision on end as to what we do," Dubas said. "I wouldn't know one or another without knowing where those are going to land, if they happen."

The last team to sign an offer sheet was the Calgary Flames back in 2013 when they tried to pry Ryan O'Reilly out of Colorado before the Avalanche matched the deal. The last player to switch teams via offer sheet was Dustin Penner, who left the Anaheim Ducks after inking an agreement with the Edmonton Oilers in 2007.

Marner is just one of a number of high-profile RFAs set to hit the market on July 1. Dubas said he doesn't have any sense whether an offer sheet will be coming for one of his players, or anyone else's, for that matter.

"I don't think there's any fear in addressing it and speaking openly about it," he said. "If it happens, it happens, and we'll go from there."

Dubas called getting Marner signed "priority one" back in April after Toronto was eliminated by the Boston Bruins for the second straight spring.

The 22-year-old led the Leafs with career-bests in points (94) and assists (68) in the regular season, and also set a new personal high-water mark in goals (26).

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas says the team will have to consider the compensation if any of their restricted free agents sign offer sheets with other teams. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

But as with William Nylander last summer, the grumbling has started in some fan circles about the perceived greed of a player trying to squeeze out every last dollar.

Dubas countered that, indicating Marner's reputation is "beyond reproach."

"Loves hockey, loves playing in Toronto, he's a great member of the community," said the GM in describing the winger. "I get that these matters become complex because of the number of dollars that are in play.

"People hear them, whether they're factual or not, and they begin to draw certain conclusions about players and what their motives are."

Teams looking to woo free agents can do so beginning Sunday through Wednesday. Last season, the Leafs used the window to help convince star centre John Tavares to jump ship from the New York Islanders as an unrestricted free agent.

Auston Matthews — who signed a five-year, US$58.17 million contract extension in February — and Tavares will chew up more than $22.5 million combined next season and beyond, while Nylander's cap hit is close to $7 million.

Dubas has said in the past Toronto would be able to keep Matthews, Nylander and Marner, but it's getting extremely tight.

If the AAV of Marner's contract falls in the range of Tavares and Matthews, the Leafs will be paying four forwards in the neighbourhood of $40 million per season.

Toronto already has about $68 million committed to 17 roster players for the 2019-20 season. The salary cap limit for the coming year is expected to be announced Saturday, with the number likely to fall somewhere between $81 and $83 million.

"We of course would love to have all these done quickly, but if you look around at the other teams here, everyone is in a similar spot," Dubas said. "I suspect in the coming week they'll be some movement, and that's what we're hopeful for. I don't sense there's any pressure.

"We'll continue to do what's right for our organization and roll from there."

Dubas also has to worry about underperforming defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who's requested a trade, and the future of Patrick Marleau. The 39-year-old winger is owed $6.25 million next season in the final year of his contract that includes a no-movement clause, but Toronto is hoping to work out a trade.

"What we're just trying to do is accommodate a situation that's gone very public since the end of the year," Dubas said. "All that said, I think that if Patrick Marleau were back with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the beginning of next year, it wouldn't be a problem for Patrick.

"There's a strong chance he'll be back next season."