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Looking at the legacy of Leafs legend Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau’s retirement announcement made me reflect on a couple of things. First, how old I truly am. Marleau was one of the few players in the league who were older than me. I am old. That truth hurts and this was yet another reminder of that.

The other thing I reflected on is far more relevant to a Leafs site, and that was Marleau’s time in Toronto. The time that would have been more fondly remembered if it wasn’t for his contract. That contract should be Lou Lamoriello’s legacy, not Patrick Marleau’s. Marleau was essentially as advertised. If the contract was 3 years totaling $6.25M instead of 3 years of a $6.25M AAV, no one would be conflicted over Marleau.

When Marleau signed, I was on vacation in Canmore, AB, ironically a sometimes home of Patrick Marleau. The news came in and while the contract warranted some pause, I found myself truly excited that Marleau was a Leaf. Marleau coming to Toronto meant a significant change in Toronto. A player who was looking to play on a cup contender decided that Toronto was the place to do it. The money was certainly also a factor, but nothing about Marleau’s career said that he didn’t want to be in a position to win it all.

Marleau came to Toronto as a 25+ goal scorer in recent seasons, and someone who could be a capable top six winger and for the first year in Toronto he delivered exactly that. His underlying numbers certainly spoke to his age, and he was no longer driving play, but ultimately what was being sent his way he was finishing on and that really was what should have been expected of a 38 year old.

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What the Leafs truly gained by bringing in Marleau is someone who in many ways was the opposite of what they had with Lou Lamoriello or Mike Babcock. Here was a leader in the locker room who was helping keep the rising Leafs stars sane while they were dealing with two of the biggest killjoys in the sport running the show. Patrick Marleau was the team Dad and was the glue that held the group together. The fact that the Leafs had someone who could speak to a successful career as a superstar and guide players like Matthews, Marner, and Nylander is something Toronto is still seeing the benefit from today, even if the drop off in Marleau’s second season and subsequent trade to Carolina along with a first round pick leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Again, that’s not Marleau’s legacy and to some extent, the Leafs did him dirty. Thankfully, Marleau still views the experience as a positive one and remains optimistic about the directions of the Leafs:

From Marleau’s retirement announcement in The Players’ Tribune:

“One of the toughest decisions professionally I ever made was to try something new in the summer of 2017. I moved my family to the center of the hockey universe and put on a Maple Leafs sweater. Playing for the Leafs was surreal. A real “pinch me” moment. My family loved it there, and our boys still want to go back and play on our backyard rink. That opportunity I gave them was like being a kid again. But I was now the older veteran on a team full of crazy-talented young kids. Kids like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Kids that are closer to the age of my own sons than to me. Watching them and their love of the game made me fall in love with hockey all over again. I have no doubt that those guys will win a Cup one day, and when they do, I know they’ll remember all those mini-stick battles in the basement.”

Marleau’s time in Toronto also had another positive impact. He opened the door for veterans coming to Toronto as a place they could compete as a contender before riding off into the sunset. Thankfully lessons were learned by Kyle Dubas before taking the approach that Lamoriello did, but the experience Marleau had led to players like Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Mark Giordano (I’m including him because of his NMC) choosing Toronto as well. Marleau helped advertise that Toronto was a first class organization trying to win now, and not the disaster spiraling out of control like the teams of the previous decade. The biggest for Marleau’s impact might have actually come a year after his signing when the Leafs were able to court John Tavares into coming home to Toronto on the strength of the Leafs trying to build for the present.

Of course, appreciation for Marleau goes far beyond just his time in Toronto. Patty is a two-time gold medalist for Canada, his commitment to playing saw him dress in 910 straight games, helping him surpass Gordie Howe’s games played record, something that needs to be considered even more impressive when you factor in time missed to two NHL lockouts and a global pandemic.

Include the fact that Marleau has exceeded 500 goals, and over 1000 career points, and Patrick Marleau is retiring with the resume of a Hall of Famer, and while the lack of Stanley Cups will be part of his legacy, Marleau captained some incredible Sharks teams during the best run of their franchise’s history.

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Perhaps my favourite part of Marleau’s career legacy is how upset he makes Jeremy Roenick, a trait we should strive to have.

From Roenick’s book:

“One night I even went to his home to discuss the struggles he was going through. It was around Thanksgiving. I was with my family at home. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the team and how dominant the Sharks could be if Marleau would realize his potential. After thinking about it all day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I left my family, climbed into my car and drove to Marleau’s home. My intention wasn’t to yell at him. I wanted to inspire him, to let him know that his teammates were behind him.”

via Mercury News

The fact that Marleau was such a calm, and unshakable player reminds me in many ways of what the Leafs have with William Nylander as well, and Marleau’s confidence in his game and he did incredibly well for himself by playing to his strengths, certainly not needing any advice from Jeremy Roenick who achieved significantly less than Marleau did. Hockey needs interesting feuds, and Marleau has to be one of the most unlikely players to be involved in one, given his family man, team-first persona.

Marleau provided us with over two decades of high-level hockey, and two years of fun fan service in Toronto. He’s a future Hall of Famer, and his career deserves to be celebrated. Even the time he spent in Toronto.

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