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Marner contract is relief for Maple Leafs players

Negotiations were 'elephant in the room,' teammate Matthews says

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

PARADISE, Newfoundland -- The Toronto Maple Leafs hope Mitchell Marner's six-year, $65.358 million contract means the end of their off-ice distractions for a while.

"It's nice. At least we don't have to hear about it for a bit, so we'll check back in three, four, five years and do it all over again," center Auston Matthews said with a chuckle Saturday.

Contract negotiations have been front and center for the Maple Leafs for more than a year. Forward William Nylander, a restricted free agent at the time, missed the first two months of last season before agreeing to a six-year contract just before the deadline at 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, 2018, to play in the NHL in 2018-19.

"You just want to get back to these guys and start playing again," Nylander said. That was the main reaction (to signing his contract). I can just imagine how happy [Marner] was."

Video: Mitch Marner and Kyle Dubas Scrum

Marner agreeing to the contract Friday, the first day of practice at Maple Leafs training camp, means there won't be a repeat of the Nylander situation. No longer will his teammates have to deal with constant questions from media and fans: "What's going on with Mitch?"

"As much as you want to block it out, it's going to be the elephant in the room," Matthews said of the Marner contract talk. "So we're all happy for him, happy to have him back and get this thing going."

Coach Mike Babcock said that a player's contract impasse affects the focus of a team, no matter how much his teammates might deny it.

"You can say, 'Oh, it's not a distraction,' (but) it's a huge distraction," he said. "You could say whatever you want, but that's not reality. And you're supposed to say the right thing every day, but you get tired of it, talking about stuff you don't know anything about because you don't know. We're all optimistic. We thought it was going to get done. Now it's done."

Video: Maple Leafs sign Mitchell Marner to six-year deal

Babcock said he was eager to reconnect with Marner and see the 22-year-old right wing on the ice. The two have not communicated all offseason.

"When players are going through these negotiations, as a coach, you want to stay out of it," Babcock said. "I haven't talked to Mitch in forever. You just don't want to get involved. Or put any pressure on the guy. Now (we) get him back in here and get him feeling good about himself, get his swagger back.

"… You know he wants to be a Leaf for life. "He's got an infectious personality. He's a great player, he's an important player for us, penalty kill, power play, even strength, you're up, you're down, whatever.

"I'm just glad it's all over … looking forward to giving him a big hug."

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Marner

Marner, who set NHL career highs in goals (26), assists (68) and points (94) last season playing mostly on a line with center John Tavares and left wing Zach Hyman, said he is excited to be back with the Maple Leafs.

"I'm happy to be here, happy to be done all that process, and looking forward to helping this team," he said.

Babcock said Kasperi Kapanen will play on the Tavares line with Hyman out following offseason knee surgery.

"Kapanen will get the first kick at the can," Babcock said. "We'll take a look and see how that works.

"The thing about Zach is he's such a good forechecker, and he's so heavy on the net. He gets those guys the puck over and over and over again. So we need someone to do that for them."

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