Patrick Marleau is the next best thing after Ilya Kovalchuk in this year’s forward unrestricted free agent class. Marleau is a gifted goal scorer and possesses something the Kings’ desperately need come next year’s playoffs; speed. Marleau is one fast mother. But is he too much of a mother in the bad way? One of Patrick’s nicknames is Marshmarleau. He gets this diminishing moniker for often shying away from the grittier kind of game that is needed in the playoffs. Marleau is talented, but not very tough.
Marleau has often been singled out as having his game tail off when push comes to shove in the post season. I am not here to debate the scapegoats for the Sharks’ playoff shortcomings, but it is worth noting that in general, his post season production takes a little nose dive when compared to his regular season numbers which hover around a point-per-game.
A huge upshot to Marleau in terms of the Kings’ interest is that he can play both left wing and center, two positions at which the Kings need to add depth. Patrick could razzle dazzle Staples center playing alongside Anze Kopitar, or better yet, give the Kings’ a sorely missed strong 1-2 punch down the middle. Now one must consider that Marleau has not played much center in recent years, often playing on Joe Thornton’s wing.
Which brings up team fit. There is always a caveat for a goal scorer who plays alongside Joe Thornton. While there is no question of Marleau’s deadly shot, his ability to create chances is much harder to decipher when you have one of the league’s best passers feeding you the puck on a regular basis. I am of the opinion that Marleau has seen improvement by playing Thornton’s wing, but is a strong enough offensive player to be able to help solve the Kings’ 5-on-5 scoring woes, at least for the regular season. Of Marleau’s 44 goals this season, good for 4th best in the NHL, 28 of them came at even strength. 12 came on the power play. A seductive number arises from where his last 4 goals came from, the penalty kill.
A critical category Marleau gets the clear edge in over Ilya Kovalchuk is his 2-way play. Marleau plays defense. He is responsible and a regular penalty killer. This makes Marleau a good ‘fit’ for a Terry Murray coached Kings’ team. He is more likely than Kovalchuk to adapt and embrace Murray’s schemes, however much of this is a little to speculative for my taste.
Let’s talk money. Marleau, who currently makes $6.3 million, is likely to receive a raise of some sort, but how much? That’s already a hefty chunk of change, and the UFA market notoriously prices players out of their capabilities. In terms of his play, Marleau fits the Kings’ team and needs as well, if not better, than anyone on the market. But is he worth what could be close to the money Kovalchuk is likely to get? It is not crazy to believe Marleau will see a bump to and possibly above the $7 million mark. That’s game-breaker money. The question becomes, is Marleau a game breaker? The kind of player you can rely on the score the game winning goal in a tight game, or tie it up in the dying minutes. The stats say yes. The fact that San Jose felt the need to add Dany Heatley to their roster last season when they already had Setoguchi, Thornton, Pavelski and Marleau, hints at no. His 10 regular season game winning goals beg to differ. His 3 game winning goals in his last 4 playoff runs, accounting for 37 post season contests, brings us back full circle to his derisive nickname.
In terms of character issues, Marleau would seem to ooze it. He was after all, the captain of one of the league’s best teams for several years. He was also asked to step down as captain last year. This brings up some interesting issues. The ‘C’ was an apparent weight on Marleau, one that once lifted, has allowed him to flourish in the 2009-2010 season. Not all players need to be leaders, but paying a player huge money when said player performs better when he is not being relied upon, is definite cause for concern. Whoever the Kings do decide to fork over their PIN number for needs to be able to perform at their best when the games count the most. That player needs to be able to put the team on his back offensively. At 30, it is doubtful Marleau suddenly develops this aspect of his game before the puck drops in October.
Finally, let us consider the likelihood of Marleau signing with the Kings. Dean Lombardi drafted Patrick 2nd overall in 1997, and he reportedly loves living in California. A lot of Marleau’s availability hinges on San Jose’s current playoff run. If they get past their current 2nd round series with Detroit, and Marleau contributes significantly, there is a good chance he resigns with the Sharks. However with the emergence of Joe Pavelski as a clutch performer, and Marleau’s meager 4 points on one of the team’s biggest offensive powerhouses makes it more likely that it is time for the Sharks to cut bait and Marleau to move on to a new team. Come on, Douglas Murray is outscoring Marleau on the Sharks at the moment, who is 8th overall in his team’s scoring.
So, lets get down to brass tax. Where does the buck stop? I think it stops around $6.5 million for Marleau. I also believe that Marleau, while better defensively, is a clear second choice to Kovalchuk. If the Kings miss out on Ilya, Patrick would be very nice consolation prize. However I do believe the Kings’ money is better spent. Ultimately, I am going to vote no to Marleau. While I would love to see his speed and shot on the Kings, I do not believe he is the missing piece for which Dean Lombardi has been preciously saving his cap space.
There are more cost effective options out there if the Kings’ can’t land Kovalchuk. We will get to those options a little later as we continue to go down the UFA list.
Besides, Marleau’s a Shark, and I hate the Sharks. I also think he has a lazy eye, which is important. Don’t ask me why.