We all see that the Leafs major problem at this point in the franchise’s history isn't necessarily their lack of ability to decisively win games. On the contrary, (See Toskala Shutout - still sounds weird). They can win the odd game here and there, but not once this season have they strung together 3 or more wins. Now, this can't be unprecedented can it? I'm sure there are other teams in the league that have this same problem.
Well, sorry to say it, but... there aren’t. Yes, this is an official stat that finally quantifies the yo-yo effect on our hearts that comes with membership to Leafs Nation. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the ONLY NHL TEAM at this point in the season that has not had at least one 3-game winning streak. Even Carolina and Edmonton have more to cheer for than us in terms of consistency. Even the pitiful SNES were able to put together three straight wins this year. In FACT, in order to find a team with our shocking inability to put together 3 straight wins, one has to go back to the absolutely pitiful 2006-07 Flyers who posted 56 points in an 82 game season. This represents the 9th worst record since the 82-game season was introduced in 1995-96 and 3 of those 9 are from that season itself.
Now I guess it’s time to get to my point. The Leafs need a present-day league superstar. Yes, Yes Kessel Schmessel. I don't want to take ANYTHING away from our young phenom, but Kessel is still a one- dimensional player. He gets the puck, he shoots. If it goes in, then he scores.
Leafs Nation needs an established name (via free agency) to lead it back to its glory days.
Now I know that many of you are thinking that Kovalchuk is the answer. No doubt, he is a franchise player, but he also brings many elements that I don't want for the Leafs and I doubt Burke wants either. Firstly, the guy is such an egotist. We don’t need someone who acts like he's hot stuff on our team. Yes, I know he's an amazing hockey player, but in today’s NHL, it’s not about getting the best talent you can get, it’s about getting the best bang for your buck. This is where I find my second fault with Kovalchuk.
NHLnumbers.com has him listed making 7.5 mil this year. Don't get me wrong but I think that that's a bit steep for a player that in so many years with the same team has yet to bring them a long playoff run and scarcely even a post-season berth. Hell, he's led his team to one southeast division title (06-07) only to be swept in the first round. Essentially he is the kind of player that has amazing seasons and puts up great stats but can't carry a team kicking and screaming on his back. Even with two 50-goal seasons, the Thrashers have only made the playoffs once in his entire time there. He's scored 327 NHL goals but almost a full third -115 - are on the PP. To me, that means he’ s not the kinda guy to do the dirty work himself. He has 40 GWG in his career of 588 games - a rate of 6.8%. So this amazing player who demands 7.5 million a season this year wins... less than 7 percent of games himself? In comparison, Sundin, the last true franchise player we had, scored 96 GWG in 1346 games - a rate of 7.1 percent. (For those interested, Sundin also scored 564 goals with 160 on the PP for 28.4% of goals coming with the advantage).
While this may seem insignificant or even counter-intuitive, I also want to present the key statistic of assists. Ideally, I could present a statistic for game-winning assists but unfortunately I don't believe that such a figure is recorded anywhere. It is nonetheless a vital number to gauge the effectiveness of a player at contributing to winning games. Instead, I will present bare assists and leave it at that. Kovalchuk's career NHL assists total is 286, a G:A ratio of approx. 8 goals to 7 assists. This means that when Kovalchuk is in the ice, he is more likely to score than to set up a goal. This in turn leads to him contributing to less goals in total. Going back to Sundin, his 564 goals to 785 assists is far more impressive as it leads to a 5:7 goals to assists ratio. So, for every 5 goals he scores, Sundin set up 7. This is 1.6 times more than Kovalchuk.
It is this kind of a player that makes the whole team around him better. The kind of player we DESPERATELY need. The kind of player that isn't going to demand to be overpaid in a 7-year deal at 9.5 mil + per season like Kovalchuk will.
If you look at our cap situation... we can't afford it and there's no way Burke will spend that much.
It is into this situation that I insert a solution - Patrick Marleau. That name should bring to mind awe-inspiring stats and amazing goals. It should make you think of leadership. A complete package. Amazing Hockey sense. A young Superstar on a jam-packed roster full of stars whose contract is ending come July 1st. In all the talk about the Kovalchuk sweepstakes, no one has thought about as Don Cherry would call him, "a good Saskatchewan boy," who would love to play in Canada. At 30 years of age, he is currently leading the race for the Rocket Richard with 32 goals in 50 games.
I will start with the financial appeal. Marleau is currently making 6.3 million. Once again according to NHLnumbers.com, this means that he will likely demand an increase somewhere in the range of 7-7.5. This will also be lightened by the fact that Marleau is 4 years older than Kovalchuk and is in his prime as an NHL veteran. He is in no place to be asking for 7 year deal (like Kovie). The most he will get is 5 years in a front-loaded contract which will also lead to a reduced cap hit at the beginning of the deal, with the possibility to re-sign him in a few years if Burke sees fit.
Stats-wise, Marleau is a more balanced team-player, with 20 goals to 23 assists. He also has 59 game-winners in 921 games - 6.4% of games ended with by his stick. However, this becomes far more impressive if you just look at his post-lockout numbers - 31 GWG in 363 games. This becomes an amazing 8.5% of games where he scored the winning goal. This, on top of his clear playmaking abilities that he shows off with Heatley and Thornton as linemates, makes him the key target for Burke in the off-season.