3:25pm: The Lions have confirmed the request from Marner’s camp to practice with the team, though it has not been decided if it will happen.
12:20pm: As we’ve seen in the past with unsigned restricted free agents deep into unflinching contract negotiations, at some point in the summer they start to consider their non-NHL options. Skating with teams in Europe or using the KHL as a potential negotiating tactic are often the way things play out and it looks like this offseason will be no different. Rick Dhaliwal of Sportsnet has spoken with a source in Europe that tells him Mitch Marner’s camp has already reached out to the Zurich Lions of the Swiss NLA in case a deal can’t get done with the Toronto Maple Leafs in time for the season. Something like this does not by any means indicate that a contract won’t be signed between Marner and the Maple Leafs, but it would give him a potential place to keep his game sharp on a temporary basis.
The fact that it is Zurich may come as no surprise, given Auston Matthews’ connection with the organization and friendship with Marner. Matthews decided to play his draft year in Switzerland instead of North America, challenging himself against professionals before his eventual leap into the NHL. Zurich is known as an extremely stable organization and this season will have Rikard Gronborg behind the bench as head coach.
It is also important to note that these discussions with European or KHL teams rarely actually end up in a player spending time away from the NHL. In fact, other clients of Darren Ferris (Marner’s agent) have been known to use the Russian league as a leverage point over the years to try and get a deal done in North America. Both Sam Bennett and Andreas Athanasiou, clients of Ferris, were linked to the KHL in the summer of 2017 when they were at contract impasses with their respective clubs.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Marner isn’t looking for a place to suit up and get on the ice however, similar to how William Nylander kept in shape with Swedish and Austrian clubs during his situation last year. If anything, this will hopefully put some pressure on both sides to get something done in the next few weeks as we are now less than a month away from training camp.