Photo Credit: John Hefti / USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs became a “place to win” destination this summer

Patrick Marleau is a Toronto Maple Leaf. Let that sink in for a minute. Sure, he’s not exactly an elite player anymore, but he’s still very good. He still had 46 points in 82 games, 27 of them goals, which put him in 106th in the NHL among forwards. Not elite, but that still puts him in the high-end 2nd liner club. All time, Marleau sits 56th for career points with 1082, and 41st all-time for goals with 508. Based on these numbers, Marleau has a good shot at becoming a Hall of Famer.

But, this isn’t an article raving about how great of a player Marleau has been or arguing his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, which if he plays out a three-year deal, won’t happen for another six years. No, I just want you to let it soak in that a player of his calibre just signed with the Leafs. More importantly, that we should start to get used to it because this is probably going to happen more often, because the Leafs have finally become a team that players look at as a chance to win.

Now, some may argue that Marleau only signed with the Leafs because they offered him money. I’m not sure that’s the case. He supposedly was offered deals with a higher AAV, but less term, so that may have been a factor. But think about it: Marleau is currently 37, and will be 38 in September, and is reaching the twilight of his career while still missing a Cup in his trophy collection. Why would he sign a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that takes him until he’s 40/41, and, at that point, probably retiring, if he didn’t think that the Leafs would give him his last shot at a cup? Marleau has made roughly $82 million in his career, so I highly doubt he’s looking at this contract as another opportunity to make some money. Marleau’s making a bet on the Leafs, hoping that they can get him his long desired Stanley Cup. Although, the fact that he appeared to be a fan when he was a kid probably helped his decision too.

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So, what does this mean for the Leafs future? Well, this probably helps their pedigree with signing big name players. And by this I mean legitimate big name players, not David Clarkson. Players like that haven’t signed here in a long time, and with good reason. The team sucked, and their management was idiotic. Why would any player have signed with them if they wanted a cup?

Now, it’s not just the Leafs fault. There hasn’t exactly been an elite crop of players to choose from in a while. Aside from Steven Stamkos last year, who didn’t quite make it to July 1st, we haven’t seen high-end players hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2012. Elite players have either signed with the team they’re currently on, or have been traded, but rarely do they actually make it to Unrestricted Free Agency.

However, there is an interesting crop in the upcoming years. Whether it’s John Tavares next year, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, and Tyler Seguin in 2019, or Taylor Hall in 2020, there is a pretty elite crop of players who, for now, have contracts expiring in the near future. The odds are in favour of most, if not all of them re-signing with their current teams, but they’re there for the time being. But, as each year goes by, the Leafs will get better and better, and players will be more and more intrigued, especially those of which who are without cup rings; which is the case for most of the above players.

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Now, should the Leafs be signing all of these players? I mean, take elite players when you can, but there’s a cap for a reason. With William Nylander up for renewal next year, and Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Jake Gardiner up in 2019, the team has it’s own players to look after (though most would gladly say goodbye to Gardiner if it meant bringing in Karlsson). Once those guys have new deals in place, the team isn’t going to have a lot of room.

Also, all of these players are going to cost a lot of money. With Carey Price making $10.5 million and Connor McDavid making $12.5 million, these upcoming elite free agents are probably all going to want something similar to that, particularly in the cases of Tavares, Doughty, and Karlsson. Say the Leafs sign one of those three to $10 million, and add that to Matthews possibly making $10 million, and Marner and Nylander making $8 million each. That’s $36 million tied up to FOUR players. That would take some crazy maneuvering to get a full, Cup-contending team under the cap.

Now, I’m also not saying to avoid the pursuit, especially next offseason. If the Leafs wanted to, they could go up to Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, or the Sedin twins, and say “You wanna win a Cup? Sign the one year deal, and join us.” And unlike years past, those players might actually say yes. Whether it’s Marleau signing with the team, or just the team being good, high-end players should want to play for this up and coming team if they want to take a serious run for a ring.

In that respect, a new era has begun. Marleau may not be an elite player anymore, but he’s a high-end player who’s betting on the Leafs to give him his last shot at winning it all. Whether that pans out or not, we’ll see, but one thing’s for sure: the floodgates have opened. The Leafs are going to become that team that players want to play for if they want a Cup. They’ve built up league-wide respect and clout on the bench and in the front office in recent years, and now they’ve built it up on the ice as well, as the product they’ve been hyping since the start of the rebuild is starting to show it’s potential, and that’s as attractive to a player as a lucrative contract.