Kyle Dubas stepped to the podium and welcomed reporters to the start of training camp.
The general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs then drew a proverbial line in the sand.
Dubas said he was happy take any and all questions related to the contract saga swirling around star winger Mitch Marner, but made it clear that after Thursday morning there wouldn’t be anything else publicly from the team’s front office until the situation is resolved one way or another.
“Radio silence,” the second-year GM said.
Talks between Marner’s camp and the Leafs – off and on since last summer – have yet to yield anything of substance.
A long-term agreement, a shorter so-called “bridge deal,” and various dollar figures have been rumoured, but the two sides remain at odds as the Leafs opened camp with physicals before flying to St. John’s for their first on-ice session Friday.
It’s believed the 22-year-old winger, who led Toronto with a career-high 94 points last season, wants to be paid in the same range as star centres Auston Matthews (US$11.634-million annually) and John Tavares (US$11-million).
The Leafs have reportedly been willing to go that high coming out of Marner’s entry-level contract, but pen has still yet to find its way onto paper.
“In every negotiation everybody thinks on their side they’re being reasonable. The major argument then comes down to: ‘Who’s more reasonable than the other?’ “ Dubas said.
“At times they’ve probably thought we haven’t been reasonable, and I would say it’s vice-versa in every negotiation that we do. I don’t try to get too tied into that. Mitch is a great player. He’s a great person that comes in here every day and brings great energy and enthusiasm.
“We’re just focused on trying to bring it to an end, and always keep that in mind, regardless of what the noise is.”
The Leafs went through a similar exercise with William Nylander last season before the forward eventually ended up getting close to what he’d asked for – slightly less than US$7-million annually – minutes before a hard December deadline.
The difference now is that Dubas finds himself much closer to the US$81.5-million salary cap, and although Toronto has some wiggle room thanks to the long-term injury reserve stipulation, money will be extremely tight if Marner isn’t signed by Oct. 2.
“We don’t want to think about going into the season without Mitch,” Dubas said. “We didn’t want to get to this point without him here either.”
Tavares, who centred Marner much of last season and put up a career-high 47 goals and 88 points, said he hopes to see his linemate soon.
“Mitchy’s obviously a massive part of our team,” he said. “We developed some really good chemistry.”
Meanwhile, Dubas was also asked about his relationship with head coach Mike Babcock, who was heavily criticized for his deployment of Matthews in Game 7 of Toronto’s first-round playoff exit – and second in as many springs – at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
“We talk a lot,” Dubas said. “We disagree, as any coach and GM do a lot. We agree on a lot of things and we work through it all. The key is, on areas that you disagree, that you respect one another and you work through all that.”
“We communicate all the time,” added Babcock, whose job security could be in jeopardy if the Leafs falter in 2019-20. “We don’t agree all the time. I’ve enjoyed it. We’re excited about our opportunity.”
Dubas overhauled the roster this summer, partly out of necessity and partly out of a desire to change its complexion to the speed-and-skill style he wants played. In doing so, the GM got rid of a couple of veterans Babcock leaned on heavily in winger Patrick Marleau and defenceman Ron Hainsey.
Also out the door were centre Nazem Kadri and winger Connor Brown, along with defencemen Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev. Joining the fold are forwards Jason Spezza and Alexander Kerfoot, while blueliners Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci headline the new additions on the back end.
Dubas, however, wouldn’t bite when asked if this Leafs incarnation is good enough to end the franchise’s 52-year Stanley Cup drought.
“It’s really, ‘Can the roster give us chances to accomplish those types of things?’ “he said. “Mike has proven he’s a coach capable of winning the Stanley Cup. He’s been to the final on two other occasions, and gone to Game 7 in both of those.
“We’ll just keep rolling every day here and try and be the best we can be every day in the hope you get some fortune and step up in key moments and it results in success.”
Dubas said he’s confident any damage to the relationship with Marner can be repaired and that the talented local product will be back in blue and white.
“He’s a big part of what we do,” Dubas said. “Even though these negotiations can go ways in which the public can form a different opinion, he’s an excellent person.
“With [Nylander], there were some heated times as well, but that relationship is excellent. I have faith that, as with all of these things, once it comes to a solution, that we’ll have to have probably a very blunt discussion and then we’ll carry on. There’s going to be no grudges from our end.”