by Mike Chen on 11/11/09 at 03:30 PM ET
He’s been their best player so far this season, and was the team’s MVP from last year. He’s the all-time leader in franchise points, a consistent short-handed threat, and one of the team’s faceoff leaders. Tally that all together and it makes sense for the Sharks to re-sign Patrick Marleau before he hits unrestricted free agency status this July. Of course, logic doesn’t always come into play in the salary cap world; more importantly, does Marleau even want to stay in San Jose?
Since the beginning of his NHL career, Marleau’s been in and out of the Sharks doghouse, either with the fans or his coaches. Both Darryl Sutter and Ron Wilson had their moments with Marleau, though Wilson at least recognized how to properly develop Marleau to his full potential. Fans and media have slagged him off and on throughout his career, usually for either being too soft or too quiet. The bulk of the blame from last year’s first-round defeat against Anaheim was shared between Marleau and Joe Thornton, despite most objective pundits’ views that the series was far from the usual 1 vs. 8, and that Marleau was playing with a bad MCL.
That being said, Marleau didn’t talk publicly about his no-trade clause or contract status this summer other than telling season ticket holders that he wanted a chance to “prove the naysayers wrong” in San Jose. He’s lived up to his end of the bargain, but is he simply driving up his asking price this off season?
At 30 years old, Marleau’s no spring chicken, and any team that signs him long-term will have to look at the eventual diminishing of his skills. Marleau’s game has always been built around his speed, though he’s added smart defensive play, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to play the body over the past few years. His play has developed into a complete game, and if he’s not contributing on the score sheet, he could still lead the penalty kill or take a defensive shift in the last minute of the game.
In many ways, Marleau’s evolved similarly to another Pacific Division mainstay: Mike Modano. Modano had a flashier start to his career, but he eventually turned into an effective all-around player, using his speed for both offense and defense. Modano’s point contributions started diminishing around age 35, and since then he’s been relied upon for secondary scoring and contributing in other ways (penalty killing, etc.).
With that in mind, here are what I consider to be reasonable point projections for Marleau (barring major injuries):
2009-10: 80-90 points (this season)
2010-11: 80-90 points
2011-12: 75-85 points
2012-13: 75-85 points
2013-14: 65-75 points
2014-15: 55-65 points
This brings us to the Sharks big dilemma. Right now, the only veteran players saddled with long-term deals are Dan Boyle and Dany Heatley. Joe Thornton hits UFA after next season, and Evgeni Nabokov’s situation is the same as Marleau’s. San Jose already has $36 million tied up in cap space for next season, though the bulk of the blueline is in place for that campaign.
The big x-factors here are the contracts of Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski. How much will these two players get? It’s a crap shoot, but one could theoretically pencil their worth in at between $3.5 and $5 million per season (pay, not cap hit) considering how NHL contracts are now about the future, not the past. Also, keep in mind that early NHL revenue projections have the cap staying put or even going up slightly despite early predictions that we’d be going into a major drop-off.
Which leads us back to Marleau—as much as he’s done for the team, as much as he’s stoically dealt with the (sometimes unwarranted) criticism, loyalty has its limits in the salary cap world. Let’s assign a rough dollar value to those projections above:
2010-11: $6.5 million
2011-12: $6 million
2012-13: $6 million
2013-14: $5 million
2014-15: $3 million
Now, by those projections, Marleau’s expected average cap worth in a five-year contract is $5.3 million. That’s a lot of cap space to assign to a guy who’s over 30, despite what he’s done for the team. I’ve never been a fan of long-term (more than five years) contracts, as it ties you into too many unpredictable factors such as injuries.
I’m guessing if Marleau wants to stay, Doug Wilson will find a way to make it work, with the potential of a hometown discount. Similarly, if Marleau feels like he’s earned a $7 million payday, then he’s as good as gone in San Jose. It’s that fuzzy gray area in between that’s up for debate. If Marleau comes back to San Jose, there seems to be only a few ways to make it happen:
1) Marleau signs a short-term deal and Evgeni Nabokov walks.
2) Marleau signs a deal similar to above and the Sharks make cap space by moving a more-expendable player with significant-but-not-huge cap hit (Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray) to create some cap flexibility.
3) Marleau signs a deal longer than the one above to lower the cap hit.
I’m not a fan of #3 in principal for any player of 25, as it can cause a lot of headaches if things don’t work out. #1 may be feasible, but only if the Sharks feel that young Thomas Greiss is ready for prime time—and there’s no real way to guess that until he get some games under his belt.
As for #2? It seems to be the most feasible compromise, though the cap hit is still a bit high for my liking. Is an aging 55-point two-way forward worth a $5 million cap hit? There aren’t too many ways to make that seem like a good idea, but going by these projections, he’d only really be overpaid in one year, and who knows where inflation will be at that point. This option is a compromise in dollar value (Marleau could surely get more on the open market) and term (it’s probably longer than Doug Wilson would like). Depending on Marleau’s willingness to give a hometown discount (his wife’s a San Jose native, and one has to figure her voice will count), this my be more and more feasible.
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