Jones for Marner: Why Both Toronto and Columbus Would Benefit From A Swap

By Jacob Nitzberg on June 2, 2021 at 8:36 am
Apr 29, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (16) skates with the puck against Vancouver Canucks in the third period at Scotiabank Arena.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This would be quite the deal if John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen can pull it off.

Mitch Marner is a superstar, and he's the type of player that teams like to hold on to as long as possible. He's averaged just over a point-per-game since his NHL debut at 19, and he is an elite talent. 

So, why would Toronto be looking to part with him? 

It's simple. Their current payroll model isn't working. Between Auston Matthews ($11.64 million), John Tavares ($11 million), William Nylander ($6.96 million), and Marner ($10.9 million), the Maple Leafs have $40.5 million a year tied up in four players. That's 48.1% of their payroll. 

With so much invested in those four, the back end of the Maple Leafs' roster this year resembled a dream team from the early 2010s. Wayne Simmonds, Nick Foligno, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and Alex Galchenyuk were the depth this year for the Maple Leafs, a strategy that got them bounced from the first round of the playoffs by the very average Montreal Canadiens. Despite stellar regular-season records over the last five years, the Maple Leafs have lost in the first round of the playoffs each of those five years. 

So, they need to shake things up. They need to focus on building a complete roster, with talent on all four lines. If they want a blueprint, they should look no further than the Colorado Avalanche, who are the best team in the NHL and Stanley Cup favorite despite having just one player making more than $6.3 million: Mikko Rantanen, who's at $9.25 million.

If the Maple Leafs are to trade someone, they're not going to trade their captain, Tavares. They're not going to trade Auston Matthews. That's a given. Nylander is a candidate to be moved, but moving Marner would give the Maple Leafs greater cap flexibility due to Marner's significantly larger cap hit.

That's where the Blue Jackets come in. Seth Jones is ready to test free agency after the conclusion of next season, so the Blue Jackets should look to move him now so that they can get as much as they can in return. Toronto is an attractive destination to play hockey, so if the Blue Jackets worked on a Jones-Marner deal, a key piece of it would be Jones's willingness to sign an extension with Toronto.

The Maple Leafs' current right-handed defensemen are Justin Holl, T.J. Brodie, and Zach Bogosian. Bogosian is an unrestricted free agent this summer, too. Clearly, Seth Jones would be a big piece for the Maple Leafs. If he went to Toronto, their top four could be Morgan Rielly with Jones, and Jake Muzzin with Justin Holl. That's a pretty solid group.

The Blue Jackets figure to have about $12.5 million in cap space this summer. That's enough to bring in Marner without moving Jones, hypothetically. However, that cap space will shrink as the Blue Jackets agree to contract extensions with their restricted free agents, namely Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier, Kevin Stenlund, and Andrew Peeke. Jones's cap hit is $5.4 million, while Marner's is $10.903 million, so the Blue Jackets need to have at least $5.503 million in space to make a run at Marner.

Would a Jones for Marner trade make hockey sense, one-for-one? Definitely not. But there's more at play here. For the Maple Leafs, they get a two-way defenseman that can quarterback the power play and eat minutes, as well as $5.503 million in cap space. The Blue Jackets would get their most talented player since Artemi Panarin, who Marner may have a better career than when it's all said and done. 

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