July 2, 2017 was the day the Toronto Maple Leafs signalled themselves as a team that was ready to contend for the Stanley Cup, by inking Patrick Marleau to a free agent deal.
While many fans were happy to have the former San Jose Shark, others were scared off by the three-year contract that carried a $6.25 million annual cap hit.
The problem with Marleau was not his resume, it was his birth certificate.
But watching the 38-year-old play, it’s easy to forget his age now. While many players lose their foot-speed once they hit their mid-to-late-30s, his strong conditioning often sees him flying down the wing on a rush.
Coming off a 27-goal, 19-assist season in San Jose, Marleau matched his goal total this season, while actually upping his assist total by 20. His season didn’t come without adversity, however, including a down stretch in January when he managed just a single point.
But his real value to the Leafs is right now, in the playoffs.
In Game 3, Marleau showed why GM Lou Lamoriello signed him, scoring a pair of key goals as the Leafs picked up the 4-2 victory.
His first goal helped the Toronto fanbase cool off a bit, restoring a one-goal lead just over a minute after Adam McQuaid had tied it up. Breaking through past Boston defenceman Torey Krug, he timed his run just well enough to receive Mitch Marner’s pass and slot the puck past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
His second goal essentially put the game to bed, putting Toronto up by a pair of goals with a little over three and a half-minutes remaining. Coming in on a 2-on-1 rush with Tomas Plekanec, Marleau scored his second goal on as many shots by simply waiting it out long enough to find the perfect angle to shoot from.
A living legend and a future Hall-of-Famer in his own right, Marleau’s been climbing up the NHL’s all time scoring list, currently sitting in 56th place. But it was a Leafs’ playoff record he broke on Monday, becoming the oldest Leaf to score in a playoff game.
Patrick Marleau (38 years, 213 days) is the oldest player in @MapleLeafs franchise history to score a goal in the #StanleyCup Playoffs, eclipsing the mark set by Norm Ullman (38 years, 109 days) in Game 4 of the 1974 Quarterfinals vs. BOS. #NHLStats #BOSvsTOR pic.twitter.com/PLkfF7E5bK
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 17, 2018
With the Leafs goal total increasing from 251 last year to 277 this season, it’s a pretty easy argument that’s Marleau’s presence has proven to be the team’s biggest addition
Marleau’s contract was never going to be a bargain or a steal. But there’s no use for cap space come playoff time, and after playing a major role in saving the Leafs’ season on Tuesday night, it’s easy to see the value that he adds to the organization.
If Toronto has any hope in completing their comeback and pushing on to the long playoff run Marleau envisioned when he decided to sign in the summer, it’s going to take more efforts like Monday night from the Leafs’ elder statesmen to help push the team from good to great.