MILTON, Ontario — Mitchell Marner remains a restricted free agent with the Toronto Maple Leafs opening training camp Thursday. Although the potential absence of the 22-year old forward who led Toronto in scoring each of the past two seasons is not ideal, some of his teammates said getting themselves ready is the priority.
“[Marner’s negotiation] is not our main concern as players,” Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said Wednesday. “We have to be ready for camp. We’ve got things to worry about. We’re trying to get better and make sure that we’re ready. We let the other (management) group take care of that and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Coach Mike Babcock told TSN on Wednesday that he hopes Marner will agree to a contract but there’s no sense being concerned about it.
“You’re just optimistic that it will get done,” Babcock said. “I leave the business side of that to [general manager Kyle] Dubas. I’m not really involved in that. We’re just looking forward to having Mitch around.”
Marner, who set NHL career highs in goals (26), assists (68) and points (94) last season, could become the second Maple Leafs player in as many seasons to miss training camp. Forward William Nylander was a restricted free agent until he agreed to terms on a six-year contract on Dec. 1, 2018, the deadline to play in the NHL for the remainder of the season.
“You just deal with it as it comes, that’s not within our control as players,” Rielly said. “We’ve talked to Mitch and obviously we want him here, he’s a big part of our group and a great teammate. We want him in the mix but there’s only so much we can do as players. We have to get ready and worry about our own games. Camp starts tomorrow, so we have our hands full there and we’ll let others take care of what’s going on with Mitch.”
Center Auston Matthews, who signed a five-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Feb. 5, said at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last week that he hopes Marner’s situation does not stretch into the regular season like Nylander’s did.
“[Nylander], he didn’t enjoy those three months not being with the team, not playing,” Matthews said. “Obviously jumping back in midseason, you haven’t played a game in six or seven months, it’s tough mentally and physically. I don’t think anybody really wants this to drag out. We’d love to see him [sign] as soon as possible. He’s a big part of our team, so obviously when the season starts you want to see him out there with everybody.”
Rielly said he expects the Atlantic Division to be better than last season, when the Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning to qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s another reason the Maple Leafs hope Marner will be available. Either way, Rielly said it is up to the players in camp to put Toronto in the best position possible once the season begins.
“You can’t help but notice within the division that there has been a lot of improvement and teams have gotten better,” Rielly said. “But if you look around the League, that’s what happens. It’s very competitive, guys want to win and teams want to win now. So you just have to deal with it, prepare and be ready for camp and you hope your teammates are doing the same thing. For this team, we’ve got a motivated bunch, so that’s not an issue for us.”