Joined: May 2015
The real answer is "never" but we all know, the choice isn't always as easy as saying it. So lets dig deeper.
We all know their most productive years are generally behind them when they are UFA's (depends on age of when they sign but lets assume 28-29 is the avg age for UFA)
The assumption is that Marner is getting paid too much, right? (I agree btw) So assume he puts up 90 points every year until the end of his contract. Would he be worth the equivalent of his current over payment he is getting now when he is 29 on the open market? Wouldn't you want to pay the player for his potential not his past pedigree knowing that he probably won't be able to put up 90+ points every of his new contract? Of course, there is always the chance Marner is a 60 point guy the rest of his contract but in all realness, what are the odds he puts up less numbers from 23-29 than he would from 29-35?
How many UFA's who signed contracts that take them into their 30's are worth their contracts in those years? Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, right? What about Kopitar? Getzlaf? Parise? How much of these guys current contracts have they been earning in their current contracts? 1-2 maybe a 3rd year? Take away the few outliers, the overwhelming rest start to be "not worth" their contract around 32 years old.
I understand this is the way things have been for the past whatever amount of years so we've been trained to laugh at the idea of paying a player asking for UFA money right away but doesn't it make sense (coming from a completely impartial spectator who values players negotiating rights and GM's ability to roster a competitive team equally) especially with players you are virtually certain are going to put up good numbers, to pay them when they are in their prime and NOT into their 30's? Does anyone seriously think Rantanen, Marner, Point are all going to return to the 60-70 point range and everything prior was a fluke?
Why would anyone want to pay Marner X% of cap at 29 but not at 22? Based purely on history, he should produce his best during the 22-28 years, not the 29-35 years. So what is it?
In a perfect world where players are paid on a yearly basis based solely on production that past year, wouldn't one assume the best years to feel like you have to pay a player a lot, would be the years when they are statistically going to be giving you the best years of their careers?
I think the NHL is changing its philosophy around player contracts. Moving away from the "past pedigree" contracts to the "future potential" contracts. I think the most undeniable thing about this is that it effects the newest wave of teams players like this the most and its what causes the riff with fans the most. They see Pastrnak signing for 6M and say "hey why not our guy too?".
Using players contracts from 2-4 years ago as comparison is no longer valid with players because the change to this mentality has been rather sudden. Pretty much the day Matthews signed his contract. It changed every other RFA's idea of their evaluation of contracts going forward. Anything before is slightly hard to compare against now in the future where as the previous change was stretched out over a longer period of time.
What I find confusing is based on the current mentality, Marner should have signed anywhere from 8.5-9.5M x 7-8 year contract, right. Then when he becomes a UFA at 28-29 he would be able to get that even bigger contract on the open market. Except, who here wants to sign Marner when he is 29 based on the 7-8 past years of 90+ points? Not the Leafs probably, right? I can already hear Leafs fans saying let him go to free agency where someone will be stupid enough to pay him his big contract. So.... Leafs are stupid for paying Marner now but whoever pays for him in the future is just as stupid? Its never a time to pay a player essentially.