Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Giving Marv

Martin Marincin was traded to the Leafs on June 27, 2015. On the same weekend Toronto drafted Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, and Jeremy Bracco, adding a depth defenceman from Slovakia was a footnote. Looking back now, in the state of the Leafs blueline it is surprising there was not more excitement about Marincin.

By the time he got to the Leafs, Marincin had already represented Slovakia multiple times at the World Juniors, World Championships, and Olympics. He was a 23 year old, 6’4″ (now listed at 6’5″) defenceman with 85 games of NHL experience, and it only cost the Leafs Brad Ross and a 4th round pick. Marincin was originally selected 46th overall by Edmonton in 2010, they actually traded Riley Nash for the pick.

At that point the knock on Marincin was making bad decisions with the puck, and not being able to stick on a horrendous Oilers blueline was not a good sign for him. He joined the Leafs at an extremely turbulent time, en route to a last place finish in search of the great Papi.

Almost 5 years later, there are few faces in the Leafs organization that have been around longer than ‘Marv’. I’ve decided to take a look at what the past 5 years has been like from Marincin’s perspective, and why the Leafs have kept him around so long.

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The Tank Year

This is the Leafs opening night defence in 2015-16:

Hunwick – Phaneuf

Marincin – Rielly

Gardiner – Harrington

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It was a sight to behold. Harrington was quickly shipped out for Rychel and replaced by Roman Polak, while Frank Corrado was in the press box. A lot. The Leafs were bad and Marincin played a lot, a career high 65 games. If you wonder how he performed he may have been the least memorable player on the ice in a time where the team was only memorably bad.

Marincin was there for every game, practice, and meeting, right up until the Leafs finished 30th.

Start of the Big Three Era

The opportunity for Marincin on a last place team led to a 2 year, $2.5m total contract extension through 2017-18. Things were going well for him, although his English wasn’t the best he had Andrej Sekera in Edmonton and Roman Polak in Toronto to help him adjust. Marincin’s thick accent came through in interviews, but his calm, playful demeanor was constant through tough times in Toronto.

He was there to witness Auston’s 4 goal game, and the graduation of many Leafs in the NHL today over the course of the 17-18 season.

In December 2016, Marincin suffered an injury on a play where he slammed into the end boards after contact with Boston center David Krejci. He was placed on the IR for 42 days with a lower body injury, and when he returned he was forced into a role not meant for him due to the various injuries of Carrick, Polak, and Hunwick.

Marincin didn’t have his best playoff series against Washington, and many fans lost faith in him because of it. Just a few weeks after Toronto got eliminated, they signed defencemen Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen from the SHL. This was bad news for Marincin, who had just had his confidence shaken.

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Making the Most of a Bad Situation

Playing for Toronto in 2017-18 really doesn’t seem like a bad situation compared to 2015-16, but it was for Marincin. He lost his roster spot and was back in the AHL despite making $1.25m. He played for the worst Leafs team in recent memory just to be forced out by the products of that horror.

Not one to complain, Marincin accepted his assignment to the Marlies in stride. “Sometimes step back is better for me” to put it in his words, but then-coach Mike Babcock had a different view on things. He said Marincin always had the skills, but just needed the confidence.

When Marincin got to the Marlies, there wasn’t a spot on the top D pair waiting for him there. Travis Dermott had developed into a top AHL defenceman in just one season, Calle Rosen was one of the best defencemen in the SHL the year prior, and Andrew Nielsen needed ice time to develop. While Marincin was comfortable on the right, the Leafs had just assigned 2017 1st round pick Timothy Liljegren to the Marlies and Justin Holl was the best partner for Dermott. The remaining spot on the right was filled by AHL veteran Vincent Loverde, and there was still RInat Valiev.

At the time the Marlies head coach was Sheldon Keefe, and he eventually found Marincin a spot beside Liljegren in the top 4. It seemed to be a good fit as Liljegren is extremely confident with the puck, and Marincin controls the defensive zone well. Over the course of the season Dermott would get called up to the Leafs, and both Rosen and Borgman would miss extended periods with injury.

Marincin was again shouldering a larger load than he was used to in the playoffs, but something had changed. When he was paired with Liljegren, I saw a defenceman that struggled to make an uncontested breakout pass earlier in the season do a spin move in the offensive slot and get a good shot off.

Marincin was playing with confidence, and Keefe noticed. There was times in the Calder Cup run where Marincin would double shift with Liljegren and Holl in third periods.

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When Boston eliminated the Leafs and Dermott was returned to the Marlies, expectation was that he would take the top pairing back. He and Johnsson both had strong NHL playoff showings, but when they returned to the Marlies it was Johnsson who shined. AJ had 24 points in 16 Calder Cup playoff games, while Dermott managed only 4 points playing behind Marincin.

I was fortunate enough to be at games 6 and 7 of the Calder Cup Finals, and they were two very different games. In game 6 there was a questionable hit on Marincin in the second that lead to a goal, and when Marincin made it back out for another shift he went out of his way for a hit and Texas scored again. The Marlies played well in the third but Stars goalie Mike McKenna was incredible as he was all series and forced game 7.

In game 7, Marincin was robotic from puckdrop. No emotions, just playing what he calls a simple game, deferring to his partner. The Marlies recorded 19 shots in the first period, and cruised to a 6-1 in the best AHL game I have ever watched. Once the Marlies got the lead, Marincin and Holl were out for almost every defensive zone draw, and the rest is history.

Marincin got demoted in a year where he expected a 2nd chance, developed a strong relationship with the future Leafs coach, and won a championship. When asked about Marincin during this run Keefe commented on how important he was to winning, and that he was a big part of developing the younger players.

July 1, 2018

On free agent frenzy the Leafs only signed two players still in the organization today. John Tavares and….

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You get the idea by now.

Marincin’s been in the organization for three years at this point, playing progressively fewer NHL games each season. This is when European players often decide to pack up and head home, but not Marincin. He signed a 1 year extension, and battled his way back onto the Leafs roster.

Marincin’s upside is known to be a depth defenceman now, but that’s all the Leafs needed him to be. He suited up for 24 NHL games in 18-19 and earned another 1 year extension. In the 2019-20 season Marincin had a good chance to audition while Dermott was hurt, playing 26 games to date and earning another 1 year extension.

So what makes Marincin different than every other 7th D? Why have Corrado, Carrick, Marchenko, Borgman, and Ozhiganov come and gone while Marincin is heading for 6 seasons?

If you are familiar with Shel Silverstein, Marv is analogous to “The Giving Tree”.

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Let’s begin with why his teammates call him “Marv” in the first place. Marincin says DJ Smith gave him the name, and many people have attributed this to the villain from “Home Alone”. Marincin didn’t think there was a reference, “It’s just Marv!” he said with a laugh.

Marv takes a lot of abuse from opponents as a big defenceman stationed in front of the net, but remains focused on his job. He may not be the most talented player, but you can count on him for 100% effort. When someone needs to block a shot, Marv gives up his body, knowing that it’s going to hurt. In that way I can see a lot of parallels to Home Alone Marv.

Just as the giving tree offered its branches to swing from, Marv offers some comic relief. Amidst the pressure of training camp this preseason, with new faces threatening his job, Marv was asked about Rasmus Sandin’s performance at training camp: “He is great player. Skills. Also good skater”. When someone in the scrum asked him about Sandin’s poise for a 19 year old: “Is he 19? Wow that’s good”

When the Leafs needed some money, Marv signed a 1 year deal for league minimum. Sheldon Keefe noted that was part of what management saw in Marv, that he was comfortable in his role and fit under the cap. He added it was valuable to the Leafs that Marv could contribute both in the NHL and AHL.

Finally, when Marv has helped all the rookies he can, he offers the Leafs a comfortable place to sit and rest. Marv has said he doesn’t care what side he plays (Left or Right), and he has plenty of experience playing with Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren. When the Leafs were tired and hurt over the past few seasons, Marv said to lean on him.

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“I know everything about this organization”

And the Leafs did.

“That’s why I want to sign here every year”

And Marv was happy.