Maple Leafs: Will Signing Bonuses Entice Mitch Marner?

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday was all about positioning. As most know by now, the Maple Leafs signed Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson to extensions and solidified their market position ahead of offering a deal to Mitch Marner.

Both deals are front-loaded, which is Kyle Dubas’ big advantage going into the free agent signing period.

Johnsson was signed to a four-year extension and there are details. For the first year of the contract, the Leafs are dinged a mere $700,000 for base salary while paying out $4.3 million as a signing bonus. The following year, 2020-2021, is to the tune of $2.6 million in base salary. The last two years pay out $750,000 a year in base salary, with more bonuses kicking up the value.

Toronto faces a cap hit of $3.4 million each year for a total of $13.6 million, while the deal seems geared to pay out at least $8 million in bonuses across the four years.

Kapanen was signed to a three-year extension that is likewise bonus-heavy and front-loaded.

The 22-year-old will, like Johnsson, receive a $700,000 base salary in year one of the deal. But there are bonuses of $3.7 million. In 2020-2021, Kapanen will have a base salary of $1.86 million not including bonuses. The last year of the deal pays out $800,000 in base salary but around $1.54 million in bonuses.

Kapanen’s cap hit amounts to $3.2 million a year for a total of $9.6 million.

In effect, Dubas is flexing his fiscal muscle and illustrating exactly what can happen when you choose to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s money to be made and signing bonuses sure do grease the wheels. The big ticket payouts at the front of these contracts were responsible for getting Kapanen and Johnsson out of the way and done, which turns the attention to Marner.

Signing bonuses aren’t new for the Maple Leafs, who’ve been dishing these out with modern uniformity since Lou Lamoriello was at the helm. Dubas has hard-wired some serious bonuses into his better-known deals, though, with Auston Matthews and John Tavares both receiving about 90 percent of their contracts’ value in that fashion.

In fact, when the calendar flips to July 1, Toronto will pay out almost $49 million in signing bonuses to their forward group alone. Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev will have a $3 million bonus drop in his account.

If Marner is similarly enticed with signing bonuses, Dubas and Co. can wire up a deal that helps them steer their cap situation – they’re sitting on just over $6.9 million in cap space – while still offering something unique and special to a player they want for the long haul.

“We continue to talk with (agent) Darren (Ferris) and have good dialogue with him,” Dubas said. “I know it’s a point of consternation within our fan base and publicly, but Mitch has been excellent throughout and Darren has been excellent, and we just continue to stay in touch and hope to move towards an agreement.”

If Toronto does not have Marner signed by Monday, he can entertain offer sheets. According to reports, his camp has been fielding calls from interested NHL clubs and that’s fundamentally a way to push a deal higher or generate buzz. Either way, it’s pretty standard practice.

About the offer sheets, the signing price is still absurdly high. To ink Marner, a club would have to fork over a veritable fortune of draft picks based on his expected market value. That’s not going to happen.

(Lead photo credit: NHL)

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