When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $18.75 million contract in July 2017, questions were asked. Some wondered why the Leafs would employ a then 37-year-old, 19-season veteran during a calculated rebuild. Others pondered whether or not the team would eventually regret the amount of money it guaranteed to the future hall of famer, once the young buds came off entry level contracts.
During his first full season with the Leafs, Marleau’s impact was significant: 27 goals, 20 assists and all 82 games played. He also proved to have a positive, fatherly influence on the likes of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. This season, Marleau’s numbers have dipped a bit (16 goals, 21 assists), leaving many pundits to wonder if age has finally caught up with him.
What’s also hurt Marleau’s cause is the belief that the Leafs need to get out from under his 2019-2020 salary cap hit of $6.25 million in order to keep its youth movement in motion.
As it stands, John Tavares (7 years, $77 million), William Nylander (6 years, $41.77 million), and Matthews (5 years, $58.17 million) are all under big contracts, with Marner still awaiting what’s likely to be a lucrative new deal ahead of next season.
Considering those established contracts and Marner very capable of netting a contract worth $10+ million per season, the Leafs may be looking for a way to get Marleau off its books. This may be easy to achieve, but what’ll be really tough is replacing the immense influence he’s had on the team’s core.
During the start of the Leafs playoff run, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman sat down with Marleau, Marner and Matthews for a lighthearted chat about the trio’s bond. Judging by the smiles, laughs and memorable moments shared together, it sure seems as though these Leafs view each other as more than just teammates – they seem like family.
If Marleau does depart, it’ll be fascinating to see how Marner and Matthew progress moving forward. Both, as we’ve seen, have dynamic skillsets that will help them maintain superstar-level NHL careers for years to come. But, as human beings, are they prepared to lose someone as influential as Marleau? Will they be able to handle losing that security blanket?
Being stars in the Toronto sports market can be challenging to young players. There is so much pressure, criticism and unfair judgment that comes with competing in such a city. From the outside looking in, it’d be fair to assume that Marleau has been the guy in which Marner and Matthews have turned to for guidance when the kitchen gets too hot.
What’s more, think about off-ice matters: relationships, business, money, carrying yourself as a professional, and knowing how to keep your nose clean. Marleau’s 20+ years in the league has allowed him to gain wisdom across all of those fields. Again, he’s likely to have helped Marner and Matthews deal with these matters as well.
If Marleau is forced to leave Marner and Matthews behind, I can’t imagine either of the latter completely face-planting. But, there will still be a transition. In a lot of ways, they’ll now be forced to mature personally and professionally without their guiding light. They may very well pass this test with flying blue and white, but it’s tough to think that Marner and Matthews wouldn’t benefit from one more year of Marleau.
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