The mixed Mar­leau ef­fect

Coach feels pos­i­tives are sure to out­weigh neg­a­tives over time

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - Dave Feschuk

SAN JOSE— When the Maple Leafs lured Patrick Mar­leau away from San Jose this past sum­mer, they were mak­ing a state­ment about the state of their team.

Fresh off adding fourth-line cen­tre Brian Boyle at the trade dead­line — a move coach Mike Bab­cock lauded as an ex­pres­sion of man­age­ment’s faith in his team’s play­off wor­thi­ness — sud­denly they were adding a fu­ture hall-of-famer on a three-year con­tract worth $18.75 mil­lion. Mar­leau’s sign­ing sug­gest- ed man­age­ment be­lieved the Leafs to be deadly se­ri­ous con­tenders.

But if the move served to un­der­line the jus­ti­fi­able op­ti­mism around the club, Mar­leau’s in­ser­tion into the mix made it a cer­tainty that some­one on the ex­ist­ing ros­ter was go­ing to suf­fer from a loss of op­por­tu­nity. Cer­tainly more than one Leaf can make the case that he’s been the chief vic­tim of the vet­eran ad­di­tion.

Such was the less sen­ti­men­tal side of Mar­leau’s Mon­day-night home­com­ing at SAP Cen­ter, where the 38-year-old for­ward who spent 19 sea­sons as a Shark was ex­pected to be feted with a pre-game video trib­ute and a warm wel­come from an ador­ing crowd.

It was a wor­thy oc­ca­sion, to be sure. Be­fore Mon­day there’d only been one NHLer who’d played more games for a sin­gle fran­chise and re­turned to his for­mer home rink in an en­emy uni­form. That’d be Ray Bourque, who played 1,518 games for the Bru­ins be­fore he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche and re­turned to Bos­ton in what turned out to be his fi­nal sea­son. Mar­leau, who played 1,493 reg­u­lar-sea­son games for the Sharks, could only hope his his­toric re­turn would go as well as Bourque’s. On the night in ques­tion in 2001, the then-40-year-old ex-Bruin played 30plus min­utes, chipped in two as­sists and was lav­ished with a post-game stand­ing ova­tion even af­ter the home­town Bru­ins lost 4-2 to Bourque’s Avalanche.

“I’m go­ing to try my best hav­ing a good poker face out there,” Mar­leau said af­ter Mon­day’s morn­ing skate. “But yeah, there’s go­ing to be a lot of emo­tions, that’s for sure.”

The team hopes the value of Mar­leau’s vet­eran pres­ence turns out to be more than cer­e­mo­nial, or even sta­tis­ti­cal. It’s far too early to make de­fin­i­tive state­ments about what his in­ser­tion into the lineup has meant to the Leafs. Head­ing into Mon­day’s game, he sat fifth on the team in scor­ing with seven points in 11 games, a 52-point pace. Still, 71 games re­mained.

In the short run, though, we’ve seen some pos­si­ble early out­lines of what could turn out to be the Mar­leau ef­fect.

Maybe it’s been most pro­nounced on Mitch Marner, who has seen his ice time re­duced by an av­er­age of 1:48 a game this sea­son. Marner was back skat­ing with his sea­son-open­ing line­mates Tyler Bozak and James van Riems­dyk on Mon­day morn­ing af­ter some re­cent ad­ven­tures with the fourth line.

The Bozak-cen­tred line has seen a re­duc­tion in promi­nence this sea­son. Mar­leau’s ad­di­tion to a line that also in­cludes cen­tre­man Nazem Kadri and winger Leo Ko­marov has es­tab­lished the Kadri line as Bab­cock’s go-to No. 2 be­hind Aus­ton Matthews’ well-es­tab­lished No. 1 unit. So van Riems­dyk and Bozak could make the case they’ve been marginal­ized, too.

And ditto Con­nor Brown, who was back to his fourth-line role at Mon­day’s morn­ing skate.

Ko­marov, mind you, could make the case that he’s also worse off thanks to Mar­leau’s ar­rival. A year ago Ko­marov was one of seven Leafs who av­er­aged more than two min­utes a game in power-play time on ice. This year Mar­leau has re­placed Ko­marov on that list, with Mar­leau av­er­ag­ing 2:36 with the man ad­van­tage and Ko­marov av­er­ag­ing 46 sec­onds head­ing into Mon­day. Both, mind you, had two power-play points apiece. And few would make an ar­gu­ment that Ko­marov was an es­sen­tial power-play per­former.

So maybe the Mar­leau ef­fect has been most pro­nounced on Josh Leivo, who was back as a healthy scratch on Mon­day af­ter con­tribut­ing an as­sist and di­rect­ing four shots on goal in Satur­day night’s 4-2 loss to the Fly­ers, Leivo’s only ap­pear­ance in the lineup this year. Both Leivo and for­ward Kasperi Ka­pa­nen, who also played his first game of the sea­son on Satur­day and was also slated to sit in the press box as a healthy scratch on Mon­day, have suf­fered amid the per­son­nel log­jam at for­ward that was ex­ac­er­bated by Mar­leau’s sign­ing. At age 24 and 21, re­spec­tively, Leivo and Ka­pa­nen are both NHL-qual­ity play­ers who can make the case their de­vel­op­ment is be­ing com­pro­mised in part to make room for the 38-year-old vet­eran.

Is Mar­leau’s vet­eran pres­ence worth that price? Maybe only if he proves him­self to be an ef­fec­tive in­flu­encer of his younger peers. Bab­cock said Mon­day that’ll be a mat­ter that’s “mea­sured over time.”

“I think Patty’s one of th­ese guys, he’s a smart guy. He’s got kids of his own. We’ve got a lot of kids. So we’re hop­ing he’s tak­ing some of them un­der his wing. I know he is,” Bab­cock said. “And I don’t think the mea­sure’s in 10 games. I think the mea­sure’s over time. So we’ll see that.”

If that sounded like a coach sub­tly ask­ing for more — well, maybe that’s read­ing too much into it. Mon­day’s was a cel­e­bra­tory oc­ca­sion. Bab­cock said Mar­leau “earned the right to this trib­ute.” Still, Mar­leau’s big night was also a re­minder that he hasn’t al­ways been syn­ony­mous with con­sum­mate lead­er­ship. He was in­fa­mously stripped of his cap­taincy in San Jose back in 2009, af­ter the Sharks lost in the first round of the play­offs as a No. 1 seed. That was nearly a decade ago, to be sure. Maybe, all th­ese years later, he’s more than ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing the kind of “in­ter­nal ac­count­abil­ity” that Bab­cock spoke of as a ne­ces­sity the other day. On Mon­day Mar­leau sug­gested there was scarce work to be done in the way of men­tor­ing Toronto’s young­sters.

“I think the group of guys we have in here — es­pe­cially the younger guys — they’re very pro­fes­sional al­ready. They’re al­ready well ahead of sched­ule with that part of it, the way they ap­proach the game. It’s good to see,” Mar­leau said. “It’s more about just try­ing to do the things that I do on the ice con­sis­tently, and hope­fully that rubs off.”

The Maple Leafs cer­tainly hope it does. If Mar­leau’s hall-of-fame­bound wis­dom isn’t a com­mod­ity that proves trans­fer­able to team­mates, surely there were more than enough in-house op­tions to fill the role he’s ex­pen­sively oc­cu­py­ing.

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