Toronto -(August 2, 2017) Patrick Marleau is a talented player and well-respected in the NHL. A lot can be said about his notable accomplishments 2-time Olympic gold medalist, world champion, and in 20 years in the NHL Marleau has only failed to score at least 20 goals 5 times and one of those years was lockout shorten season. This article isn't about how good of a player and person he is. It's about the results of this signing good, bad and potentially ugly.
Let me start by saying I’m not against this signing. There are elements of this deal that could be viewed as step back as well as elements of what Marleau can bring to this team which is desperately needed with this young team; a veteran presence and guidance. He may not be known as the most vocal but he leads by example and is able to take the kids under his wing so to speak. Matthews, Marner, and Nylander don’t need much help on the hockey side things but off the ice he will show them how to keep things humble and respectful, what it takes to be a good pro. Not that’s there has been any problem in that department but, its never bad to have a positive influence on and off the ice.
Another good thing is with the skill he has even at his age it can allow players to be moved out like James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak to help shore up the back end. Both Bozak and JVR are in the last year of their contract but JVR is the most likely to be traded during the season. It's in the Leafs best interest to trade JVR as he will demand a big payday the Leafs shouldn't consider. JVR is a good player but the Leafs focus needs to be on signing Marner, Matthews, and Nylander when their entry level contracts expire. I fully expect JVR to be traded this season as part of a deal that would bring a top 2 defensemen to the Leafs. As for Bozak, I think it would be a deal for picks and prospects. It's a little harder to replace a centre but the Leafs have the depth to do so. Nazem Kadri would make the jump to be the second line centre and 3rd and 4th could be a toss up between Moore and Gauthier (when he returns to health). I'd put Moore as the 3rd line center.
One of the bad things of the Marleau signing is the 3rd year of the 3-year contract as he will be 40 years old in the last year of his deal. Sure, he has been a very durable and productive player and hasn't missed a game in 8 years but, how long can you expect that to be the standard for Marleau. Sure, much has been made about his conditioning and the work he puts in during the offseason but, the older you get in this league the harder it is to keep up and bounce back from injury. As the cliche goes “the game keeps getting faster and the old guys get left behind”.
Now we come to the cap hit that Marleau will receive at $6.25m a year for 3 years. This is a steep price to pay when you must resign your core of Nylander, Matthews, and Marner within a couple years. Best case is if the Leafs can get one or both of Marner and/or Nylander to accept a bridge deals to keep the teams progression in motion and not take up a lot of cap space. Odds are that won't happen as these kids are good now and, will be justified in looking for a raise at a long-term commitment If they continue to build off of the year they just put forth. rnrnSome good news is that after this year the Leafs can open up some space with Lupul, Gleason, Fehr, and Cowen and some others no longer being charged against the cap which will make life little bit easier when it comes time to give Nylander his extension as he burned the first year of his entry level deal; a year prior to Matthews and Marner. There's other things the Leafs can do to help themselves later on. As the potential on moving JVR, and Bozak if done right can bring in a top 2 defensemen and open up cap space going forward. Also knowing the Leafs willingness to bury Hortons cap hit on long term injured reserve will help with the cap situation temporarily as at the beginning of each year that space needs room to land on the cap before it gets buried again. Rinse and repeat till Horton is off the cap.
Here's where it could get potentially ugly. When It comes time to sign Auston Matthews the Leafs may have to make a tough choice on to keep Nylander and Marner, due to the bar set out west with McDavid’s megadeal. Should the Leafs go with Nylander they keep a forward who is another weapon playing with Matthews who has an outstanding shot, scoring touch and great hands. Nylander would gain lots of attention should he made available. As for Marner he has passing ability that puts him in the conversation among the league's best playmakers. Marner’s other attribute that stands out is his commitment to his defensive game. Which shined in the playoffs to take away a chance breakaway from Alexander Ovechkin in overtime of game 2. As much as I love both these players If I had to choose I’d take Marner over Nylander because, Marner has committed to backchecking and playing in his own end.
Marleau is going to make an impact on this team’s future no matter how you look at it. He’s going to be a good mentor for the kids and will chip in offensively. However, it comes at a very expensive price tag which in the end will force the hands of the Leafs to make difficult choice unless the Leafs get lucky and are able to move out high priced contracts and use some prospects moving forward as opposed to keeping support players long term in much the same way as the Blackhawks have to keep them as a contender.
However, one also has to consider the willingness of this management group, and ownership to utilize LTIR. Who is saying in a few seasons time they don’t exploit this aspect of the CBA and pick up another player who can essentially allow them to exceed the salary cap? Also, as difficult as it is to imagine the same management group has shown a willingness to push veteran players aside on to “Robidas Island” to allow for cap flexibility. It would be difficult to utilize such a tactic against such a respected NHL veteran but anything is possible. When you add up what Marleau can add to the team, the seemingly opening cup window for the Leafs, and managements willingness to push the CBA envelope Marleau’s deal doesn’t look half bad. Twitter: @NHLHUBTO