As he's linked to a trade away from salary cap-strapped Toronto, Maple Leafs winger Patrick Marleau reportedly has one destination in mind above all else this offseason.
Marleau, the longest-tenured player in Sharks history, wants to return to San Jose, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said during a Tuesday appearance on "Prime Time Sports" on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto. A reunion won't be so simple, according to Kypreos.
"So right now, my understanding is San Jose's not sure yet," Kypreos said. "[Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson's in a position to say, 'Yeah, maybe I'm interested, but not certainly at the price of the last year of the contract.' So, I would probably believe that a third team would need to get involved, a team that needs to get to the [salary] floor. The Leafs would have to entice that team to take [Marleau's] contract, and have to give up something. And then if [the third team] were to buy out Marleau, then San Jose could come in and sign him at a number that they're satisfied with."
Marleau, who will turn 40 in September, is entering the final year of a three-year, $18.75 million contract that he signed with the Leafs in 2017. He has a full no-movement clause, and can veto any potential trade.
The veteran forward is coming off his worst offensive season (37 points) since he was a rookie, and the Leafs reportedly want to trade him in order to clear enough cap space to re-sign pending restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner. Marleau took Marner and Leafs star Auston Matthews under his wing in his first two seasons in Toronto, but he's no longer creating offense or driving play as well as he once did.
While the Leafs can retain up to 50 percent of Marleau's cap hit -- or $3.125 million -- in any trade, that's still likely a bit rich for what the forward brings to the table at this point in his career. Throw in the Sharks' own cap concerns, as evidenced by trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers one day after making Erik Karlsson the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and it's hard to envision a trade outside of the three-team scenario that Kypreos outlined.
With recent reports indicating the salary cap might rise to $82 million rather than the $83 million the NHL first projected, San Jose would have about $15.3 million in cap space with just seven forwards under contract. Toronto retaining salary still might not leave enough space for the Sharks to re-sign their cadre of free agents. Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi all can hit the market as unrestricted free agents, and Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are due to hit restricted free agency.
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Pursuing a post-buyout Marleau is another matter entirely. He remains a popular figure among fans and his former teammates alike, but Marleau's production is more in line with a bottom-six forward at this stage of his career. The Sharks didn't get enough production from depth forwards in the playoffs, and it's possible that returning to his longtime NHL home with his family in pursuit of his -- and the franchise's -- first Stanley Cup would rejuvenate Marleau.
But as things stand right now, Marleau is a Maple Leaf, and the Sharks have more pressing priorities.