The Toronto Maple Leafs — and more notably, general manager Kyle Dubas — have gotten plenty of flack for their contracts over the last few years.
Toronto and pricey, unrealistic contracts that look bad the moment they’re signed are hardly a new thing for the team that Dubas has introduced. From David Clarkson to Mike Komisarek, the Leafs have handed out money and term like candy for years now, with no general manager immune from it.
As the Leafs prepare to face the San Jose Sharks on Friday evening, though, they’ll face off against a player that they gave too much money and too much term to – who’s now thriving back with his former club on a much cheaper deal.
Patrick Marleau signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks worth just $700,000 earlier this season, helping the club that drafted him 2nd overall in 1997 turn their ship around and stop an early-October losing skid. He’s already put up two goals and six points in his first six games back with San Jose, who inked him to the incredibly team-friendly deal after the Maple Leafs traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes for a buy-out this summer.
The Leafs were criticized from day one for signing the veteran forward to a three-year deal worth $6.25 million per season, especially given that he was going to fill in a depth centre role for the franchise. Now, head coach Mike Babcock has come out and admitted that the deal was never going to be seen through to the end in the first place, going on record during the pre-game media scrum to discuss the fact that the team signed the deal fully intending to either trade or buy out the centre before it was up:
As #Leafs prepare to face Patrick Marleau tonight, Mike Babcock said team always knew parting was inevitable before end of his three-year deal: "We knew right when we signed him. We couldn't get him for two years. We tried. We knew the math didn't work out when we signed him."
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 25, 2019
The reactions from the general public went just about as well as expected:
— The Leafs IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) October 25, 2019
The admission doesn’t look good for Toronto, particularly since it gives the perception that general manager Kyle Dubas is able to be pushed into less-favorable terms on deals for players who are past their prime and good (but not world-changing) additions to the lineup. Although Marleau was a fantastic locker room presence for players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, the open admission that the team gave Marleau one more year than they ever planned on playing him looks pretty ugly – especially given the price tag attached to that extra year.
Ultimately, though, the admission is only quite so notable because it’s being made so blatantly. In reality, the situation was far from one that’s exclusive to Toronto, and it’s one that teams make often enough with players who boast prestige, leadership, and big names. The issue of signing players for longer terms than a team ever plans on keeping them around is systemic and not an issue for Toronto alone – but most teams don’t typically have their head coaches admit to the strategy out in the open as Babcock did.
It wasn’t Babcock’s only bizarre blunder while talking about Marleau during the media scrum on Friday. He also made a statement asserting that the veteran forward, who has 1,663 NHL regular-season games under his belt, has set a goal to break Gordie Howe’s 1,767-game NHL record – something that Marleau took to his wife’s Twitter account to directly refute.
Quick comment regarding Babcock’s statement: I don’t think anyone can set out to break a games played record. There are so many things that can happen, and that is not my goal. My one and only goal is to win a Cup. That’s it. Anything else is just gravy. -PM
— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) October 25, 2019
Given that Toronto is sitting with a lacklustre 5-4-2 record through 11 games, though, it’s hard to look at this as the biggest concern Babcock is facing right now. If the team continues to underperform, it won’t matter how good or bad he’s been with the media; at some point, he may be out altogether.