Mitch Marner was 47 days old when Patrick Marleau was drafted by the San Jose Sharks. Auston Matthews was three months from being born. That made it all the more amazing when they became teammates in 2017.
While the 2017-18 season was a success for Marleau, last season was less positive. The Toronto Maple Leafs journeyed back to the playoffs but they did not get much help from their aging superstar. Here is a break down of Marleau’s 2018-19 season.
Father Time Is Undefeated
For years it seemed that Marleau would never slow down. He scored at a consistent pace and skated like a young man well into his late 30s, mostly with the Sharks before signing with the Maple Leafs. He was an ageless wonder.
Had he not been in the midst of a decade-long iron man streak, Marleau would have been a healthy scratch in 2018-19. To date, his consecutive games played has reached 788. Had head coach Mike Babcock benched him during said streak it would have been very disrespectful the team’s most respected veteran.
On a team full of fast, young players, he could no longer keep up. For years Marleau was a key part of the Sharks core with his speed and his scoring ability. He led San Jose in scoring in 2000-01, 2003-04, and 2010-11, and finished his tenure as the team’s all-time franchise leader in points. However, where he had excelled, he now lacked. He had always been able to put up points, but now his hands were unable to maintain the standard that he had set for himself. Time finally caught up to him.
It would be a problem for the entire season, being a contributing factor to Marleau’s poor performance.
It was apparent that he was going to have difficulty when he was put on the Maple Leafs’ top line to start the season. Toronto’s first game saw him playing beside Matthews and in the second game Kasperi Kapanen was added to that line.
Kapanen is the Maple Leafs’ fastest player and playing on Marleau’s line quickly exposed the aging superstar. His speed was no longer what it was when he was in his prime and skating with Kapanen did nothing to help Marleau’s situation. While he still brought great leadership to the team, his speed and his hands had taken a blow. As a result, his value had taken a hit as well.
Lack of Production
The 2018-19 season was Marleau’s least productive season since his rookie campaign in 1997-98. He was limited to 16 goals and 21 assists. His 37 points were his lowest total since scoring 32 as a rookie (excluding the lockout-shortened 2013 season).
For years, Marleau’s scoring showed zero signs of regression. He averaged 57 points per season as a member of the Sharks. Then, in his first season as a Maple Leaf, he scored 47 points in 2017-18 at 38 years of age. His age was but a number. That’s why it was a surprise when his production dropped off.
On a team filled with young, fast superstars, Marleau was no longer able to keep up. Matthews, Marner, and John Tavares led the offensive charge but the emergence of Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson pushed Marleau further down the depth chart. By the season’s end, he was routinely playing on the third line. His 37 points put him in ninth place in Maple Leafs scoring last season.
Marleau’s poor performance was compounded by his place in the Maple Leafs’ lineup. He spent a good portion of the season on the same line as Nazem Kadri and William Nylander, both of whom were undergoing less than ideal seasons themselves. Kadri took a step backwards, scoring half as many goals in 2018-19 (16) than he had the previous season (32). Nylander had the worst season of his career as he never quite got his feet under him following an extended contract holdout that saw him miss the first two months of the season.
It was not the wrong decision to keep Marleau away from the top two lines given his decline, but putting him with two other struggling players was not a recipe for success. He finished his season on the Nylander-Kadri line.
His poor play ultimately led to his departure from the team on June 22. At his level of production and his remaining salary of $6.25 million, Marleau no longer fit in on the Maple Leafs’ roster. He asked for a trade so he could move hisfamily back to California and he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where he was bought out.
Overall Grade: D
In the grand scheme of things, the 2018-19 season will do little to impact the legacy that Marleau will leave on the NHL. Having your first unproductive season at 39 is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you consider the prior two decades of excellence.
His time in Toronto did not play out the way anyone had hoped, as he now leaves still searching for his first Stanley Cup. Marleau’s time with the Maple Leafs should be remembered for mentoring Matthews and Marner. This will have left a greater impact on the team and its future than his point totals.