Preseason Player Preview: Patrick Marleau

Last season Patrick Marleau was the Leafs Dad. I mean, he had help from cool uncles like Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, but this year Patrick Marleau is pretty much Daddin’ it up on his own. That is unless Ron Hainsey and Curtis McElhinney have been pulling Dad duties all along and we haven’t noticed, then they can just a keep on Daddin’ too. All of this is terrible and I apologize for making you read it. If you stick around this post might get slightly better.

What the previous paragraph was trying to say is that last season Patrick Marleau joined the Leafs and provided valuable veteran leadership to a rather young forward core. He did all the off-ice stuff, and locker room stuff that a lot of us ignore because it doesn’t show up in the score sheet and is hard to justify with a $6.25M AAV cap hit, but it certainly seemed to have value and the Leafs didn’t go bankrupt from it.

At the same time that Marleau was a leader on the Leafs, he was a solid contributor on the Leafs. Marleau matched his 27 goals that he put up in the previous season in San Jose, played about 17 minutes a night often alongside Nazem Kadri, and contributed to the power play. not bad for a player who just turned 39. Some people may point out that a few of those goals were empty netters, but those people are jerks and are just chasing the low hanging from of Marleau’s contract being hard to swallow. There is little doubt that the contract was an overpayment, but really that’s a problem for next summer. We’ll talk about that a little below, but really, can’t we just enjoy that year one went better than we thought it would?

With Position TOI With CF% With Marleau CF% Without CF% Without Marleau
Nazem Kadri C 780:13 49.43 48.36 46.13
Mitchell Marner C 457:18 48.25 49.66 54.35
Leo Komarov C 427:07 47.26 51.29 43.29
Connor Brown R 149:55 52.33 48.6 48.87
Zach Hyman C 131:09 49.05 49.11 49.9
William Nylander C 106:18 57.6 48.18 49.41
James van Riemsdyk L 48:43 58.14 48.82 54.1
Auston Matthews C 44:37 41.25 49.11 50.44
Tyler Bozak C 42:54 39.36 49.55 52.84
via naturalstattrick.com

As part of the line that often draw the opposition’s top line as their matchup, Marleau and Kadri understandly have a bit of a dip in their CF%. What is perhaps most interesting is that Marleau excelled when he was taken away from Komarov, something that will no longer be an issue this season, and the line was at its best when Connor Brown was brought into the mix. When Matthews was injured last season and time was spent with Nylander and JVR, Marleau also excelled in the more sheltered role away from top lines, and found a bit more offense with that group. Given that Marleau will potentially be on a line with Nylander this season, we should be excited about what that could yield, although if we’re saying that we should also point out the interestingly low numbers Marleau had when playing with Auston Matthews. Somehow I think they’ll figure that out though.

via CJ Turtoro’s Tableau Dashboard

Despite having the speed, Marleau was near the bottom for controlled zone entries on the Leafs last season, just edging out the fourth line. Marleau’s exits, and shot generation numbers weren’t much better, and point to him primarily functioning as a finisher, which isn’t a bad thing to be provided you can keep it up.

via CJ Turtoro

In fact, maybe it’s just better if Marleau doesn’t have the puck too much until the last seconds before it goes into the net. Playing with Nylander who excels at carrying and dishing the puck will help, and there really aren’t too many limits on what Auston Matthews can do, so he’ll have linemates that help get that last bit of productive hockey out of him before he gets set on his merry way.

via CJ Turtoro

In the grand scheme of things the Leafs are swapping in pretty equally challenged forwards. Marleau gives the Matthews line another shooter, but somehow Marleau is a step back from Hyman when it comes to carrying the puck into the zone. (This is really just scratching the surface of something that Dylan Fremlin explored in detail comparing Marleau and Hyman)

So that leaves us with a couple of questions on Marleau, and some of that has already been answered in camp.

The big question was if the 39 year old winger would still have his speed and would be able to add value to the Leafs in the 2018-19 season, and that looks to have been answered by Marleau not looking any different than he did last season, and in fact looking very comfortable playing with Marleau and Ennis.

The next question is the bigger one, and one that while doesn’t really fit into the context of this season, is a hard one to ignore for the next season. That question is what do the Leafs do with the 2019-20 $6.25M cap hit that Patrick Marleau will have?

With big contracts for Matthews, Nylander, and Marner, and likely more money for Kapanen and Johnsson, and hopefully Gardiner, the Leafs can’t have Marleau around next season. It’s the tough reality of the business. Before the Sharks went out and added Erik Karlsson, there might have been hope that Marleau would turn to San Jose for a victory lap with his long time team, now that might be a bit harder to pull off.

After his July 1st bonus is paid next summer, Marleau will have a very reasonable salary of $1.25M for his final contracted season. The problem is finding the team that has $6.25M of cap space but wants the bargain contract. (Okay, that’s not the hard part.) The real problem is finding the team that can take the cap hit, and Marleau will waive his no movement clause for. That’s either going to be the Sharks or a Stanley Cup contender that doesn’t spend anywhere near that cap. Both of those are challenging things to address.

For now I’m putting blind trust in it all getting sorted out, and I intend to enjoy the Marleau-Matthews-Nylander show. We could realistically see a line with 3 30 goal scorers on it, assuming that Nylander signs before December.

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  • Chelmsford Leafs

    Not the place for this but a friend-of-a-friend-of-a friend (unreliable source) said that Nylander hasn’t signed because a trade was agreed with a West team but turns out it is a double trade back East so he can play with his brother. Please don’t let this be true.