Marleau’s a risk worth taking
When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello was asked during this past season whether his team’s rebuilding was ahead of schedule, he artfully dodged the question by saying he never had a schedule.
But the Maple Leafs’ decision to sign Patrick Marleau to a threeyear, $18.75-million deal Sunday gives us his answer.
Lamoriello would not have given a 37-year-old player a multiyear deal unless he believed the Maple Leafs had a chance to make an extended run. Lamoriello is always aggressive and calculating, never impulsive or foolish.
Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock attended a Western Conference final game in Nashville last month, and you wonder if what they saw there persuaded them that they are closer than they thought they were. They finished with 95 points last season, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Marleau signing doesn’t instantly transform the Maple Leafs into an Eastern Conference favourite. Far from it.
While the signing of the steady Ron Hainsey bolsters the Maple Leafs’ defence, the blue line still needs work. Goalie Frederik Andersen needs to discover a higher level of consistency. They ranked 22nd in goals-against average, giving up 2.85 goals per game.
But Marleau has scored 104 goals over the past four seasons and he is joining an offence that was already going to be one of the league’s most dangerous.
In Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk and Marleau, the Maple Leafs now boast six players capable of scoring 25 or more goals.
The Maple Leafs were fifth in the NHL in scoring last season, and with the continued improvement of the young stars and the addition of Marleau, they could easily be No. 1 in offence.
Risk comes with this deal. Because Marleau is in the 35-andover category, the collective bargaining agreement would offer no cap relief if he has to be bought out at any point.
But Lamoriello clearly doesn’t believe that will happen. Marleau’s skating is still impressive, and he is coming off an exceptional season in which he had 27 goals and 46 points. He looks like an option to play with Matthews.
Also noteworthy is that Matthews and Marner have two seasons left on their entry level deals. When Matthews starts his next deal, likely to place him among the highest-paid players, Marleau’s $6.25-million cap hit will just have one season remaining.
If the Maple Leafs raise their scoring rate from 3.05 to 3.20, they could win 45-plus games next season. It’s easy to project them adding a defenceman, maybe a rental, at the next trade deadline.
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins were without premium defenceman Kris Letang during their most recent Cup. The Penguins didn’t win with a blue ribbon defence. They won with savvy defenders who played well at the right times. Don’t think for a minute that Lamoriello and Babcock didn’t take note of that.
The Marleau signing is a risk worth taking.