When you cover a team for a season, as I have with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s hard to avoid having favorite players. I made no bones about it during last season; I developed a real appreciation for three Maple Leafs players in particular. Sadly, for me, all three are now no longer in the organization.
First, I came to appreciate Tyler Ennis, who was a steal of a deal for the Maple Leafs. He has now signed with the Ottawa Senators for a modest raise. Second, I came to appreciate Jake Gardiner and was saddened that he got such rough treatment at the hands of Maple Leafs fans, only to discover later that he was playing with a back injury for much of the season. He hasn’t signed yet with anyone and there are even rumors he might re-sign with the Maple Leafs; however, I hope that’s not true. I think he’d do better in a new location.
Finally, I believe Patrick Marleau showed character and team leadership by the way he took both Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews under his wing – almost like sons – and had them become part of his nuclear family. Sure he was a shadow of his former Hall-of-Fame self, but he still scored 16 goals, 21 assists, and 37 points in 82 games. Lot’s of players would think that was a solid season. He’s now an unrestricted free agent.
Item One: Patrick Marleau Skating in San Jose
During my reading and research for this post, I was reminded of Marleau when I saw the newsthat he was discovered skating with also still-unsigned and now perhaps former San Jose Shark Joe Thornton in the Sharks’ training facilities. Interestingly enough, Marleau was wearing his Maple Leafs jersey in the photo I saw. Although he’s been linked to the Sharks during this offseason because he moved his family closer to their California home, there’s been no movement on any signing so far.
The 39-year-old Marleau, who’s already played 21 seasons, has said he thinks he could even play past this coming 2019-20 season. His offseason skating partner Thornton, who’s also 39 years old and who’s also played 21 seasons, has even bigger future plans. If his career works out as he wishes, he thinks five more seasons are in the cards. Good luck to them both as they work to pursue their careers.
By the way, both Marleau and Thornton, at one time, served as Sharks’ captains and are at the top of the team’s record books in every major offensive category.
Item Two: Tavares on the Maple Leafs Captaincy
For fans who’ve been following the Maple Leafs recently during this offseason, in the absence of much substantial news, there’s lots of renewed talk about the Maple Leafs needing a captain after so many seasons without one.
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
Recently John Tavares, who’s one of the favorites should a captain be named, was interviewed on TSN. His thoughts? “We have plenty of guys who can fill that role.”
He believes management will make that decision when the time is right. I have to think the signing of his last season’s line-mate Mitch Marner might be more pressing on his mind.
The Maple Leafs haven’t had a captain since Dion Phaneuf left during the 2015-16 season. Although Phaneuf seemed comfortable handling the Toronto media and certainly had time for fans, especially young ones, he isn’t remembered as one of the great Maple Leafs captains.
A captain, in my mind, doesn’t need to be the most skilled player on the ice. However, to be a good NHL captain, a player must carry himself with is a measure of pride, and that often takes someone quite special. Having cut my teeth as an Edmonton Oilers fan, certainly Wayne Gretzky was a great captain. However, I recall that some lesser-known players such as Lee Fogolin (three seasons), Kelly Buchberger (four seasons), Jason Smith (five seasons), and Shawn Horcoff (three seasons) were also great captains.
Certainly, the Maple Leafs have strong candidates for the job. Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews, or Tavares have the spark, a solid reputation with teammates, and are respected by other teams and NHL referees. Any of those three would be a
At one time, I believed Marner would be a great captain; however, after this offseason, I no longer hold that opinion. I hope I’m proved wrong on this point.
Currently, I’m hoping that, if a captain is named, it would be Rielly. I think he handled himself in the wake of the falsely-accused homophobic slur last March. He was good with the media and seems able to handle the Maple Leafs’ enthusiastic and often demanding fans.
In Toronto, perhaps more than other markets, the team needs a captain who can handle media relationships with grace. There always seems to be a plethora of negativity surrounding the team, and I have a feeling Rielly could do a good job.
That said, the one person who seems to be standing in the public eye during this offseason is Tavares. I’m wondering if he’s already begun to act as the captain, and making that official is just a matter of time.
Item Three: Is Timo Meier a More-Effective Player than Marner?
In a quick bit of news, if you are a follower of hockey analytics, you might not be at all surprised by Sportsnet NHL author Andrew Berkshire’s report that hockey analytics show that the Sharks’ Swiss player Timo Meier is more productive on the ice than Marner.
On Aug. 13, Berkshire was interviewed on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup and, in Berkshire’s words, Meier is “significantly more productive.” If that’s true, Meier’s signing of a four-year, $24 million deal is a steal for San Jose.
Why, then, is the Maple Leafs organization struggling to sign Marner for $10 million per season? The answer, according to Berkshire, is that the market has been set by Marner’s agents and their loud and public demands.
There’s still more than a month before the preseason begins for the Maple Leafs. The team is bolstered by the additions of Alex Kerfoot, Tyson Barrie, Jason Spezza, and perhaps even Cody Ceci, although the jury still seems to be out about his value to the team.
For those who are looking forward to the regular season, the expectations are that the Maple Leafs could go far in 2019-20. Even without Marner, if it comes to that, it should be an exciting season.