NHL Free Agents 2019: Rumors, Predictions for Mitch Marner, Jake Gardiner, More

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJuly 16, 2019

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitchell Marner (16) skates against the Boston Bruins during the first period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Boston, Friday, April 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs are waiting to figure out a solution to Mitch Marner's restricted free agency.

Since no offer sheets from other NHL franchises have come in for the 22-year-old, the Leafs are in a bit of a standoff with Marner and his representatives.

Other teams have reportedly shown interest in Marner, but no concrete decisions have been made regarding his future.

One player on Toronto's roster from last season is likely to not be back, as free agent Jake Gardiner is receiving interest from a handful of teams.

The Carolina Hurricanes are in a wait-and-see situation with Justin Williams, but the 37-year-old's decision to return will not affect the roster building of the franchise since the team has done a good amount of offseason work. 

                                    

Rumors, Predictions for NHL Free Agents

Mitch Marner 

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Toronto is close to or at the point where it hopes an offer sheet is tendered to Marner.

In that case, closure would be forced upon the process, with the Maple Leafs either agreeing to a deal with Marner or receiving compensation from the team that offers him more.

Adam Hunger/Associated Press

McKenzie also mentioned there is a fundamental difference in the perception of the value and term of a new deal for the 22-year-old.

According to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline, Columbus is among the teams that have spoken with Marner, but the indication is he wants to remain in Toronto.

One thing is for certain regarding Marner, and that is he deserves a raise after making $850,000 last season.

Marner is coming off his best season yet, with 94 points off 26 goals and 68 assists and a plus-minus of 22.

If a big-money deal is in the cards for Marner, one would think it is similar to the contracts of John Tavares and Auston Matthews.

Matthews is set to make $15.9 million next season as part of the five-year, $58 million extension he signed in February.

Tavares is scheduled to make the same amount as Matthews for the 2019-20 campaign as part of a seven-year, $77 million free-agent deal he inked last summer.

Marner is more than deserving of making similar money as Matthews and Tavares, but if the gap in negotiations comes from a divide in salary and length of contract, the two parties will have to come to a solution at some point.

Holding out for an offer sheet to come in from another team makes a bit of sense from Toronto so it can match that deal and not overprice a contract for Marner.

On the other hand, this is a player that could be a cornerstone for the franchise alongside Tavares and Matthews and help the Leafs to make a push toward the top of the Eastern Conference, and he is deserving of the top dollar.

The allure of Toronto's title-winning potential, as well as playing alongside two of the best forwards in the NHL, should be enough to keep Marner in Ontario. But now the key for both sides has to be working on an agreement that pleases everyone.

Prediction: Marner works out deal with Toronto and stays there. 

                        

Jake Gardiner

According to Sportsnet's Luke Fox, the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens have interest in Gardiner.

Before free agency began, TSN's Steve Simmons reported the Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild and Toronto were high on Gardiner's list. 

The 29-year-old defenseman has recorded a positive plus-minus in each of the past three seasons and is coming off a 62-game season in which he scored on three occasions and recorded 27 assists.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

When he played a full 82-game slate during the 2017-18 season, Gardiner eclipsed the 50-point mark for the first time with five goals and 47 assists.

Despite the increased level of production, Gardiner comes with a bit of a warning flag because of a back injury he dealt with during the postseason.

Fox noted the signing of Tyson Barrie squeezed out a return to Toronto for Gardiner, but there should be enough interest in him to still get a favorable deal done.

Since Gardiner is from Minnesota, you could point to the Wild as a potential landing spot, but it might not be as intriguing as Montreal or others.

The Canadiens have eight defensemen signed to deals, but they could use an increase in scoring from that part of the ice alongside Shea Weber and Jeff Petry.

Adding Gardiner's offensive production to Weber's 14 goals and 19 assists and Petry's 46 points could be the boost Montreal needs to round out its scoring depth.

Fox also mentioned the New Jersey Devils as a team with the cap space to make a run at Gardiner. The Devils acquired P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators earlier in the summer to bolster their defensive unit, and they only have four players signed at the position.

If the Devils show interest, they might be the best fit for Gardiner. But if not, the Canadiens and their defensive depth could lure him across Canada.

Prediction: Gardiner signs with Canadiens.

                  

Justin Williams

According to Luke DeCock of the News and Observer, the expectation inside the Carolina organization is Williams will return for another season, but no one knows what he will do. 

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Williams' situation is much less complicated than those of the other free agents still available on the market.

The 37-year-old, who has played the past two seasons with Carolina, is likely to either return or retire.

Fox noted that Williams built a house in Raleigh, North Carolina, and would prefer to not move his family again.

Williams would be a valuable piece for the Hurricanes to bring back since he carries 18 years of NHL experience, seven of which have been the franchise over two stints.

He carries value on the ice as well, as he recorded 50-point seasons in back-to-back campaigns following his return to Carolina.

If Williams' form on the ice dropped off significantly, then you could understand his decision to hang up his skates, but he has proved there is plenty left to offer.

Keeping a 50-point player on the squad is crucial for the Hurricanes, who are on the rise in the Eastern Conference. They have built their roster to contend, with Sebastian Aho coming back and the acquisitions of Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel improving their overall talent.

Prediction: Williams decides to return to Carolina.

                       

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from Hockey ReferenceContract and roster information obtained from Spotrac.

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