Blow away the smoke, and Mitch Marner's choice is simple

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Sometime between the start of the regular season on October 2, Mitch Marner has a decision to make. It is a simple one, really, for the discussion around his contract has made it seem complex and fraught with tension and high emotion. And higher numbers.

When something looks too complicated, the best action is to break it down and determine what the facts are.

Late-signing RFAs

We will have to go to the end of the course, but now, we can look back to last year and how to calculate late-signing RFA's salary and cap hit. We can use William Nylander as an example.

Cap Friendly explains the rules and provides the formula that is in the CBA:

The cap of the year after the first year of the contract is calculated first: Cap hit after the first year = (First year salary × season / total season days + contract value remaining) / contract years

The first years cap hit is then calculated:First years cap hit = cap hit after the first year × total season days / season days remaining

The first thing to understand is that this calculation is done on salary. I know the salary structure is important in determining cap hit in this one instance. Normally, we ignore salary when discussing just the cap implications of a contract. This means negotiations around the salary structure to get the ultimate December 1 deadline.

Nylander’s salary was negotiated to be:

  1. $ 12 million
  2. $ 9 million
  3. $ 6 million
  4. $ 6 million
  5. $ 6 million
  6. $ 6 million

$ 6,962,366 and $ 10,277,778 in year one.

In practice we use a lot of shortcuts for our mental model of how the salary cap actually works. They want to be on the team all season long and thats the cap hit. But what really happens is that the person is looking for the day, who is looking for the right person.

Every year at the trade deadline, we talk about adding players to their prorated cap hits. I know Jake Muzzin last year the Leafs less than half of his $ 4 million salary (does anyone else suddenly find that to be a comically small number?).

That is confusing enough to keep your head, and to look at your friends at the project. CapFriendly's "Projected Cap Space" number can be added.

When an RFA signs late, that is a year-in-cap hit is, in effect, prorated right back down again, since he is on the roster for a limited number of days. If you go back to last year, and look up William Nylander's actual accumulated cap hit it’s $ 6,932,366.

LTIR Changes Everything

For the Leafs this year, things are different, and a quick jog through the numbers is a necessary evil.

First: The Leafs are over the cap without Mitch Marner on the roster by approximately $ 3 million. That is approximate because it depends on which 23 healthy players they choose to begin the season with. If we had a magic wand to make Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott healthy now, the Leafs would still not be under the cap.

Second: We are going to assume for this calculation that Mitch Marner signs after the start of the season, but before Zach Hyman is back off of LTIR, where it seems likely he will start the season.

Since the Leafs will be in LTIR space if Marner were to sign late, he would be considered to be a player who is added to the roster using the relief from the long term of the LTIR is designed to allow.

Let’s assume that Dermott is back at that time and one of the 22 men. CapFriendly’s armchair GM gives me $ 11.1 million in LTIR pool in that scenario with a plausible roster.

Now let's have Hyman become healthy and get added back. I get $ 9.6 million in LTIR pool now available with 22 men on the roster and Marner unsigned.

When a player's hit is paid for with the pool, it comes out for dollar. There is no prorating involved.

To sign Marner late, the entire amount of his cap hit is drained out of that pool. The inflated year-one amount is not prorated down. To make that available pool look more pleasant, you can run the team with 22 or 21 men in total. This comes with some risks, but it can be done.

Therefore, the realistic maximum cap can be added without any other major change to the roster is $ 10 million. This isn't news, we've had these numbers for a long time.

Executive Summary

RFAs who sign late have their year-one AAV increased.

LTIR is used for dollar on the AAV of such contracts.

The maximum LTIR pool likely to be available after October 2 on the Leafs is $ 10 million.

The Choice

Forget anything you may have heard about the last few days that might have been offered in the summer before the current roster was set. None of that matters. That’s the smoke. There is little room for a high enough AAV.

This is the reality: Marner wants the Auston Matthews contract, and he can't have it. Not "shouldn't have it", not "is not worth it" or any other consideration. He can’t have it.

The Leafs have LTIR space for a 9-10 million AAV in year one. What is the choice for a Marner is to sign a deal that's 3 times 9.75 before October 2 or he sits out. It is that stark. There is no plausible wiggle room to have that year one amount pumped up.

The only thing left to discuss is exactly what we talked about yesterday: the desire to have a great deal and a huge raise in the next contract. One example is this:

  1. $ 7.5 million
  2. $ 9.75 million
  3. $ 12 Million

The Leafs have – just – and it sets up the next contract to be as large as Marner seems to want it. It is also, as we talked about yesterday, so large the Leafs would be thinking about trading Marner before they agreed to give him that second contract raise. Unless he’s suddenly turned into the best winger in NHL history, that is.

Marner gains nothing by waiting beyond the start of the season (although it would be smart to delay the 15th, to see if there is a new agreement to extend the current CBA). He has to decide if he can accept any version of that three-year deal the stomach can, and if not, he run out of the clock and no deal is not actually less than that.

Will Marner to any version of a bridge? That’s his only question to answer.

For the Leafs, they've explored longer term deals at AAVs that are overpayments. But now, with the way they have structured their roster, they have tightened the opening they had left for a point where they would require some kind of roster-damaging move.

The team's choice is simple as well. If Marner says no to a three-year compromise deal (without a huge final year salary), then they either sit out or take to the team in order to fit his contract in. Any team that picks up the crowbar in the short term, is not keeping that player in the long term.

I know in effect, the choice is this: Does Marner want to play for the Leafs or not?

And I 'd be remiss if I didn t say that Bob McKenzie said on the Bobcast way back when hockey was still being played this time

Do you know exactly whom you are supposed to be, Mitch?

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