Patrick Marleau's production with Leafs isn't matching his contract

Jan 15 2019, 3:16 pm

Slightly over halfway through his three-year contract, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau’s name has come under scrutiny for a lack of production. Through 45 games this season, Marleau has put up 10 goals and 10 assists, on pace for about 36 points. That’s decent production from a third-line player, but many have begun to grow weary from a player with the fifth-most ice time of any Leafs forward on the season.

Of course, it’s hard to really blame Marleau himself. At age 39, he’s the fifth oldest player in the NHL. Except in extremely rare cases (Jaromir Jagr, anyone?) few can keep up their game late into their careers. He’s still far from a bad player, or one who shouldn’t be in the lineup anymore.

In the NHL, a league where superstars rarely leave their teams in free agency, it’s unlikely the Leafs management team could’ve assumed they’d be paying $11 million per season to former first-overall pick John Tavares just a year after luring Marleau away from San Jose in the summer of 2017, in what was generally agreed to be a slight overpay based on perceived market value.

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But if given a do-over, the Leafs’ management likely takes a mulligan on the contract which pays him the third-most on the team currently behind just John Tavares and William Nylander in cap hit for this season.

As he sits ninth in team scoring with another year attached to his deal after this season, Marleau’s $6.25 million cap hit can’t be separated from the Leafs’ alternate captain’s public perception as they face difficult salary cap decisions moving forward. The important caveat is that former Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello (now with the New York Islanders) signed the deal, so this can’t be seen as an indictment of current GM Kyle Dubs failing to plan for the future.

Let’s take a look at the good and bad of the contract through 127 of a possible 246 regular season games.

Positives

It hasn’t been all bad for Marleau.

  • In Marleau’s first year of the deal, his 27 goals ranked fourth on the team. He finished tied for 47th in the league in this category, which speaks for itself.
  • It’s highly unlikely Marleau’s causing any commotion in the dressing room. Often posting photos and videos with the Leafs’ young stars (sometimes alongside his own four kids), he’s adopted the role of “team dad”.
  • Marleau had about all you could ask from him in last year’s playoff performance, picking up four goals and an assist, including the first two goals of the Leafs’ Game 7 loss to Boston in the first round.
  • Even if he’s a step slower than he used to be, Marleau provides much needed left-wing depth and consistency. He hasn’t missed a regular season or playoff game since 2008-09.

Negatives

However, there are legitimate concerns about his contract that may be holding the team back moving forward.

  • The deal has a no-movement clause. Marleau can’t be traded, waived, or sent down to the minors without him first approving the deal. He can be scratched if it ever does come to that, but it’s unlikely Mike Babcock would want to be the one to end his ironman streak.
  • His replacement could be much cheaper. Trevor Moore, who just signed a two-year, one-way deal with the Leafs has looked every bit as effective as Marleau could be in a six-game stint, picking up a goal and two assists in a fourth-line left-wing role.
  • While outside of a crazy offer coming from elsewhere, it’s clear the Leafs’ top priorities this offseason are re-signing star forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But the money that otherwise would’ve been used to re-sign veteran defenceman Jake Gardiner (who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason) might be stuck in the final year of Marleau’s contract. With new contracts also needed for secondary forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, the Marleau deal creates a tough pill to swallow.

Criticisms of the deal that may have been brushed off at the time of signing are looking more valid today.

However, if Marleau were to for whatever reason agree to a move away, a budget team such as Florida or Arizona could be a destination for a trade this offseason. While his cap hit will remain the same at $6.25 million, he’s owed just $1,250,000 of his salary after July 1, 2019, as the majority of the deal comes via a yearly signing bonus.

Of course, no one in the Leafs fanbase would be in their right mind to complain about his contract if Marleau ends up doing what his intention was when he came to Toronto — raising a Stanley Cup over his head.