It’s a game that favours youth now – at least that seems to be the trend in the NHL these days. Teams are more willing to give opportunities to younger players and bring veterans in on professional tryouts (PTOs) than pay an established player whose career seems to be tailing off.
For Patrick Marleau, that was the case in San Jose this offseason. The team decided upon bring back grizzled veteran Joe Thornton and passed on the opportunity to add another locker room guy in Marleau in favour of giving younger players a chance to play, according to Pierre LeBrun.
That being said, LeBrun also indicated that the team did show great respect to their former captain, saying the fit just wasn’t there to bring him back.
The Sharks’ Situation
While it would’ve been a great storyline to see Marleau return to the Shark Tank with Big Joe and the rest of the Sharks, it seems the team simply couldn’t make room for the 39-year-old. After signing Thornton, the Sharks are left with just over $2.68 million in cap space heading into training camp with 47 of the 50 available contract spaces filled.
The Sharks, who already moved Joe Pavelski this offseason, have $26.5 million locked up this season in three defenceman – Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic – and another $21 million locked up in their three highest paid forwards, Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Timo Meier.
The decision to not bring back Marleau will allow the team to see what they have in the pipeline and give more opportunity to some of the Sharks’ younger players like Meier, Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc and Barclay Goodrow.
Patrick Marleau’s Descent?
After playing the last two seasons in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, in which he tallied 43 goals and 84 points in 164 regular season games, Marleau waived his no-trade clause and let the Maple Leafs know that he would like to return home to the west coast with his family.
Surely the decision wasn’t entirely easy as the veteran played a major role in developing the young players in Toronto both on and off the ice – guys like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner who seemed to cling to the not-so-outspoken leader.
The Maple Leafs moved him to Carolina where the Hurricanes bought him out giving him the freedom to sign where opportunity knocked. Well, opportunity has yet to knock – at least publicly – and Marleau remains an unrestricted free agent.
At 39, Marleau is seeing a decline in his game – slightly. His speed isn’t as efficient as it once was and he dropped off by 10 points from 2017-18 to 2018-19 and nine points from his last season in San Jose as a 37-year-old. That said, he’s also seen a decline in ice-time over the past four seasons.
From averaging 19:02 in 2015-16, he dropped to just over 17 minutes to just 16:21 last season. The drop off is understandable considering the Maple Leafs were getting production from guys like Matthews, Marner, Nazem Kadri, Andreas Jonsson and Kasperi Kapanen. Like many, the Maple Leafs relied heavily on their younger players last season.
But that begs a number of questions – given his drop off in points over the past few seasons, is Marleau a good candidate for a contract offer this season? Or is his age and the interest in youth in the game today starting to catch up to him and push him out of the NHL?
A Forgotten Leader?
He’s a player that hasn’t missed a game since the 2008-09 season – an ironman among the best of them and while his numbers are taking a slight dip from his glory days, the importance of a player like Marleau on any team shouldn’t be undervalued.
In San Jose, he wore the ‘C’ from 2004 to 2009 before the team stripped him of the captaincy following a first-round exit after winning the Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season in 2008-09.
From there, Marleau put up 472 points in 622 games during the remainder of his stay with the Sharks. With the Maple Leafs, he took on a bottom six role with grace and became an obvious leader off the ice to the young players – Matthews and Marner, especially – taking them under his wing both on and off the ice. He welcomed them into his home and taught them about professionalism in the room and on the ice – something that is so important in today’s game and with the things like social media the only things separating athletes from their fans.
That said, Marleau had a request – to return to the west coast and continue his career. Both the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes acknowledged the request and gave Marleau what he was looking for – an opportunity to sign where he wants. But, still, the soon-to-be 40-year-old remains an unrestricted free agent.
Offers will come, that I’m sure of. Will they be where he wants to play? Maybe. But the Sharks have already made their decision. He won’t be donning the teal, black and white this season. So what’s next for the future Hall-of-Famer? That’s still to be decided.
One thing is for sure, though. The NHL and its teams shouldn’t allow a player of this magnitude – a leader among leaders – to go out without him making the decision. They cannot allow Marleau to become a forgotten leader.
Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on delivering some opinion to hockey’s biggest fans. Whether you agree or disagree, we would love to hear your thoughts.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.