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Leafs’ Marner opens up about ‘the list,’ the contract on Carrick podcast

Connor Carrick doesn’t have a future in media. He has a presence.

The current New Jersey Devils defenceman and former Toronto Maple Leaf dropped an excellent instalment of his podcast Wednesday, interviewing good friend Mitch Marner.

Marner speaks candidly from quarantine on a number of topics — the draft, the contract, “the list,” the Selke dream — over the course of the former teammates’ 60-minute conversation.

You can stream the entire episode below. It’s a must-listen for Leafs fans. Here are a few highlights.

The List

Carrick asks Marner to single out one of the greatest learning opportunities he’s had as a Leaf.

“Well, I think one is to never grade your teammates on their work ethic in practice,” Marner laughed. “That one is definitely the top.”

Thankfully, Marner can now look back and chuckle about that incident from his rookie season in which, upon former coach Mike Babcock’s request, he ranked his fellow Leafs’ effort level, placing veterans Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak near the bottom.

“I was really young. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to do, so I did it. Next thing I knew it got reported to the team,” Marner recalled. “Bozie, JVR and Naz – those three are some of the best guys I’ve ever played with. They’ve been great throughout my career, talking to them and stuff like that. It was hilarious. At first, they were jiving me about it, because I didn’t know it was gonna get shown to them. I think (Babcock’s) lesson was trying to show the older guys that I’m a young guy and I’m looking up to these three and that’s what was happening.”

Today, Marner described the incident as “a growing moment.” Babcock himself said he apologized at the time, admitting it was not a good idea.

“The three guys that ended up getting told, these were the three best guys that could’ve been told, because they didn’t care. They were on my side. They knew I had to do what I had to do there,” Marner said, noting that he maintains a good relationship with all three ex-Leafs and they still chirp him about the list on occasion. “I was very grateful it was those three.”

The Contract

Regarding last summer’s prolonged contract negotiations, Marner said that he remained hands-off until the very end, letting agent Darren Ferris work with general manager Kyle Dubas throughout the tension-filled off-season.

“You have agents for a reason. They do the dirty work. They do all the talking for you,” Marner explained. “It was about three or four days before training camp opened up, and finally I called Darren. I said, ‘All right, let’s get a meeting with Kyle. Let’s get talking. I want to talk face-to-face.’ And Kyle really wanted to do that as well.”

Once the player and the GM met in-person — a key point in the William Nylander negotiations as well — Marner said his signature was on the paperwork within 24 to 48 hours.

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Marner’s priority was to not miss training camp or exhibition games, but the venom spewed his way while his contract was in limbo had an effect.

“It was really interesting to be a part of it and see what a lot of people try to do to kinda tear you down,” Marner said. “Try and make you feel like you’re not the player you are.”

The RFA tried to steer clear of social media and hit them gym determined to prove doubters wrong. Training on the ice with long-time coach Rob Desveaux, he’d put so much pressure on himself that he’d get abnormally frustrated if he made a mistake in a drill.

Marner said once Desveaux gave him a dose of straight talk that helped: “Hey, man. Just calm down. No one’s out here judging you. You’re a hockey player. You can do this. You’re fine. Just enjoy everything.”

The Draft

The world knew Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were going one-two at the 2015 draft, but after that, it was a crapshoot.

Marner said the Arizona Coyotes (pick No. 3) had done a remarkable job of keeping their selection a secret to everyone except, perhaps, Dylan Strome. The Coyotes told Marner they’d be making a draft-day decision.

“Arizona’s pick is before Toronto’s. I’m sitting there nervous as hell again. I remember they picked Strome,” Marner recalled. “All my cousins, uncles and all the people there with me cheered so loud that people thought they were with Strome. They thought now I’m going to Toronto.”

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Once Marner saw his London Knight connection, Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter, step to the podium to announce the fourth-overall pick, he knew he was up.

“There’s no way Mark’s going to speak on the mic and not call my name,” said Marner, who grew up in Leafs-crazed Toronto. “I knew what I was getting myself into. I think from that moment on, I knew it’s time to grow up quickly. You have to get your head on your shoulders quick.”

James Reimer was the first player to call and welcome Marner to the team, but he soon got another call — from Toronto’s director media relations, Steve Keogh.

Some hockey fans were digging through Marner’s old high school tweets and retweeting them to the masses. His timeline needed a clean slate.

“That was kinda my first warning,” Marner said. “People going back to 2012 like, ‘Screw you, man. We’re gonna get you right away. We’re gonna expose you right away.’ ”

The Selke

Heading into his third season, Marner volunteered to join the penalty-killing unit and was used extensively with John Tavares and Zach Hyman on Babcock’s top shutdown line. He turned in a plus-22 campaign without letting his offence slip.

Asked by Carrick about his personal goals, Marner turned to the defensive arts.

“The award that I think would be really cool to win and be acknowledged for is the Selke. The names that are always in the Selke are guys that everyone is scared of on the ice,” Marner said. “The guys that you know you’re gonna play against them and it’s gonna suck.”

The Red Bull hats

As a Red Bull–sponsored athlete Marner gets shipped more hats with the energy drink’s logo than he can wear. He and Dion Phaneuf have talked about this.

“They just send you hats on hats. I honestly got 100 or so hats of Red Bull,” Marner said.

Yet it’s against protocol to give them away, even to family members or a pal like Carrick. Red Bull doesn’t make its caps commercially available, so wearing the hat is like a visible signal that you’re an endorsed athlete, and Marner has met other athletes in the Red Bull family this way.

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The Marner Assist Fund

The impetus for Marner’s charity effort began with the weekly hospital visits he and Knights teammate Christian Dvorak would make to spend time with sick kids in London.

“Just seeing these kids battle every day,” Marner said. “Just coming in some weeks that they were out of the hospital, that made you really proud but still sad you didn’t see them.”

The alternate captain

Marner said 2019’s opening night and the captaincy unveilings struck a special chord for him and Auston Matthews. Morgan Rielly had long worn an “A,” and John Tavares had been a captain on the Island, but Marner and Matthews were getting a letter for the first time.

“For me and Matts, it was an eye-opener that we gotta be a leader,” Marner said. “Obviously, that doesn’t mean just screaming your head off and being an idiot. The big thing is going on the ice and proving we can do the right things.”

The media

Marner explained his approach when it comes to Toronto’s larger-than-average scrums.

“Every answer I do is trying to make it about the team. Try to always exclude myself from it … everything comes from a team perspective,” he said. “No one wants to be looked at as a selfish guy.”

The video games

When he’s not lifting dumbbells, walking the dog, or rollerblading around firing hockey balls into an empty net, Marner is spending a chunk of this downtime watching or playing video games. He’s now broadcasting his games as a fun way to interact with his fans and to “show people I’m actually half-decent at gaming.”

But there’s a catch.

“Trying not to swear as much as I can on Twitch has been really hard,” Marner smiled. “I start saying the word and then I just stop.”

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