ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland — Mitchell Marner said he rejected offer sheets from other teams as a restricted free agent because he only wanted to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was early in the summer,” the Maple Leafs forward said Monday. “And the whole goal was to be a Maple Leaf, so it wasn’t in my head too much. As soon as (agent) Darren [Ferris] mentioned it, I told him right away, ‘I don’t want to explore that option.'”
Marner’s offseason was so focused on staying with the Maple Leafs that he said he didn’t even go over the fine print of the offers being made.
“Like I told Darren, I didn’t really want them, so I didn’t really ask too many details about it,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss training camp, I didn’t want to miss any games this season.”
Had Marner signed an offer sheet with another team, the Maple Leafs would have had seven days to match the terms of the offer or accept draft-pick compensation from the signing team based on the value of the offer sheet.
Marner agreed with the Maple Leafs on a six-year, $65.358 million contract (annual average value of $10.893 million) on Friday and joined the Maple Leafs at training camp Saturday.
He’ll likely be in the lineup against the Ottawa Senators at Mile One Centre in St. John’s on Tuesday (5:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN4, TSN5, NHL.TV), and play right wing on a line with center John Tavares and left wing Kasperi Kapanen.
Kapanen is replacing Zach Hyman, who had knee surgery in April and is expected to miss at least the first 15 games of the regular season.
Marner reached his goal of being with his teammates for the start of preseason games, but it wasn’t easy, especially with all the noise swirling around him in Toronto all offseason.
“It was hard,” he said. “I live there so you ain’t getting away no matter who you talk to. Family, friends, they’re always asking. It’s always in the back of your mind. You try to get away, go to the lake or something and get out of the city a little bit. Kind of tried to do that.”
His opinion regarding offer sheets, however, never changed.
“I kind of turned down [the idea] right away,” he said. “I never really thought about it too much in my head. I kind of got rid of it. But the waiting part and sitting at home … you kind of sit at home and keep hearing the discussions between the two.”
Marner finally decided that an in-person chat with general manager Kyle Dubas was needed. Dubas wanted the same thing.
“That’s kind of why Kyle and I met,” Marner said. “Clear the air and make sure we were talking to each other. Got freed up.”
They met Thursday, and one day later they had a contract agreement.
“I think it was mutual,” Marner said of the desire for a 1-on-1 meeting with Dubas. “I know Kyle was asking as well. I thought it was good. It brought us together face to face. It kind of expressed both our feelings. We got it done at the end of the day.”
Marner, who led the Maple Leafs with 94 points (26 goals, 68 assists) in 82 games last season, said he was appreciative that there was interest from other NHL teams but reiterated that playing elsewhere never entered his mind.
“It was nice hearing that other teams valued me, but I knew this team valued me as well,” he said. “In our four years being here, I knew how much faith they have in me, and that’s another reason why I wanted to come back, to show them they made the right decision and I made the right decision staying here.”
Coach Mike Babcock said he thinks Marner, who grew up in the Toronto area, did exactly that by remaining with the team he grew up cheering for.
“I said a long time ago that Mitch wants to be a Leaf for life,” Babcock said. “That’s why in the end you’re pretty comfortable that it would happen.
“In the end Mitch would tell you the business part of it wasn’t very much fun. But knowing what you want, knowing where your heart is, I think that’s important. We wouldn’t have (Toronto-area native) John Tavares here if he hadn’t felt that way, so Mitch feeling that way is important too.
“But you’ve also got to get guys not born in Toronto who want to be Leafs too.”