ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — “What took so long?”
It was at least a variation of the question that everyone has been asking at work, in bars, and certainly in the stands at the Paradise Double Iceplex at Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in Newfoundland since Mitch Marner signed his six-year, $65.358 million contract.
Still it was a “fastball” that initially handcuffed Kyle Dubas.
An ideal icebreaker, honestly, if soft-tossed into the wheelhouse of the Leafs general manager at the much-anticipated unveiling of the last-to-be-locked up core piece in Toronto was instead delivered high and hard, or incredibly bluntly.
And it seemed to contribute to the uncomfortable tone and seemingly incomplete initial stage of a reparation process after a contentious and ultimately divisive contract negotiation that lasted all summer between the Leafs and their prized winger.
With many questions still left unanswered after the near-11-minute session with the media, the conversation and controversy surrounding the negotiation and the ultimate resolution likely won’t soon dissipate.
And for that reason, awkwardness should linger around Marner through the remaining days in Newfoundland, and maybe into the pre-season schedule.
But it was always to be uncomfortable for the two.
Most importantly, continuing on with a partnership that was indeed salvaged begins here.
“We have these guys committed to us for an extended period,” Dubas said, standing side-by-side with Marner. “We’ll get into a stretch here where we can just come to the rink every day and play. We won’t have any of this hovering above. People will make their own discussions or try to create other controversies but I don’t think we have any at this point.
“We can just enjoy being together, have fun being together as a program and continue to grow together without worrying about anybody having to go anywhere.”
It is worth asking the question of where we would be had both sides not seriously felt the pressure point applied on the first day of training camp.
It was in his media session before the Leafs travelled to Newfoundland that Dubas indicated that a “blunt” discussion might be needed in order for the two sides to ever come to an agreement.
It turns out they just needed an honest one.
Dubas revealed Saturday that both sides engaged in a productive conversation after the glamour shots had been captured, scrums completed and media day had officially wrapped Thursday.
At a table, or maybe over the phone, both sides essentially laid out their cards, eager to make a deal.
“It was great for Mitch to explain to me how he felt and for me to explain to him the reasons why we were at where we were at, and what we were proposing, and how he fit into the team, and how the team was going to move forward, and everything of that nature.”
“I don’t want to speak for Mitch, but it was a real positive in the process.”
From that point it took about 36 hours for Dubas and Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris, to complete the framework of the deal that will make the talented right-winger the second-highest paid player at the position.
And today he boarded a private plane headed east, more than $15 million richer via the bonus structure built into his contract.
At least before tax.
You wouldn’t know it by analyzing his disposition upon arrival in Newfoundland, but it is undeniably good to be Mitch Marner.
And fortunately for him and the Leafs, it can only get better from here.
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